Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Deficits and Voters

Kevin Drum suggests that the reason independents tell pollsters they support the things that Barack Obama wants to do about the deficit but don't approve of Obama on the deficit is because "the vast, vast majority of independents don't really have any idea what Obama's plan to handle the deficit is."

While I'm sure he's correct about the claim he makes in the clause I quoted, I'll take the opportunity to repeat my frequent assertion (unfortunately untested, as far as I know) that the claim would also be true if you remove the words "Obama's plan to handle."  That is, I find it quite plausible that (many? most?) independents have no idea that "deficit" refers to the difference between federal government revenues and federal government expenditures, but instead use it as a synonym for "bad things in the economy." The basic text for this assertion, which I've referred to many times, is a question to George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton about how the deficit affected them personally, asked at a town-hall style 1992 debate.


  1. In eighteen years you haven't found any better evidence?

  2. Or maybe in eighteen years he hasn't found any evidence to refute it?

  3. I remember that moment well -- I watched it from the overflow room next door. Here's that question:

  4. You might be right for many voters. But when polled with "jobs" and "deficit" both choices for priorities, 2010 voters were usually able to choose (more often they chose "jobs"). Maybe they just had a more concrete understanding of what jobs were.

    Republicans, in the lameduck tax debate, basically took the position that job growth trumped deficit as a priority, which makes it surprising to me Democrats can't or won't now call them out on deficit grandstanding a couple months later.

    OT: Your shutdown prevention bill idea at plumline is great and Obama should definitely do it.

  5. Don't forget the constant failure to make any distinction between the deficit and the national debt. I don't think most people understand either. Obviously people are laying into some Tea Partiers for this sort of thing, and perhaps that's fair, but we saw the same thing under Dubya, and I don't think it was any more informed then.

  6. I'd be a fan of Plain Blog just for remembering that 1992 incident. I never understand why it has otherwise fallen into the memory hole.

  7. I'm with Rick on the greatness of that clip - and thanks for the link, Greg G. I totally buy the argument that Clinton's 1992 rise from the ashes, and ending 12 years of Reagan/Bush, was mainly due to economic or other sociological-level factors.

    But man, when you watch that clip, in particular GHWB raising the "awfulness" ante in his response to an awful question, it does make you wonder a bit.

  8. Another example of this kind of economic ignorance comes from a remark by Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips last year, in an online Q&A session for the WashPost:

    Q: If cutting taxes did so much to raise revenues, why did we always find the federal deficits ballooning immediately after they were implemented. Think Ronald Reagan, GW Bush. Tax increases under Clinton also raised revenue and actually brought the budget into balance.

    Judson Phillips: Kennedy cut taxes and the economy boomed in the 60's

    Reagan cut taxes in the 80s and the economy boomed.

    Bush cut taxes in the early 2000s and the economy boomed.

    The Clinton balanced budget came mostly after the GOP took over the house in 2004 and he could not spend all the money he wanted to.

    There are several things wrong with Phillips' answer here, but the most amusing is that he seems to be under the impression that economic growth and government revenue are synonyms. That's sort of the flip side of thinking "deficits" mean "bad things in the economy."


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