Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Effects of Deficit Talk

I agree with Greg Sargent's general point about public opinion and the deficit:
No one is saying the deficit isn’t a valid topic of conversation. But we’re increasing caught in a “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop,” in which the relentless bipartisan focus on that one topic to the exclusion of others is leading more and more people to tell pollsters they’re worried about it. That in turn reinforces a sense among public officials that it should continue to be their number one focus. And people aren’t hearing anyone talk to them about the economy, even though it’s far more likely than the deficit to influence their vote next year.
Exactly right. If Barack Obama says the deficit is a big problem, and John Boehner says that the deficit is a big problem, then practically everyone is going to agree tell pollsters that the deficit is a big problem. Remember, just as people don't know very much about politics, they don't know much about economics, either. Tell 'em that the "deficit" is the source of all the problems, and they're likely to believe it. Even if they don't really know what it means (and, yes, I'd still like to see a pollster find out what people think of when they hear "deficit").

However, I think Sargent shouldn't be surprised that Obama's deficit speech last week didn't move public opinion. We're talking about a mid-day speech on a fairly dry topic; it's hard enough to move public opinion, even temporarily, with a major prime time set piece. Not only did practically no one watch the speech, but I'd guess that very, very few Americans really even heard about it.

But he's right about the constant drumbeat of deficit talk.

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