As Congress grapples with the federal budget deficit, voters are divided along familiar lines of income, education, and race—posing challenges for both political parties as they try to assemble a coalition to support their cost-cutting ideas.
For instance, among white men with some college education or less, only 20 percent trust President Obama to make the right decisions about the federal budget deficit, while 50 percent say they have more faith in congressional Republicans to make the right decisions, according to the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll. Less-educated white voters have proven to be especially wary of the president. Repeal Obama’s health care reform law? Fifty-four percent of these voters somewhat or strongly support its repeal. It’s 46 percent for all voters.
By contrast, 79 percent of black non-Hispanic voters said they trusted the president more than the Republicans to make the right decisions about reducing the federal deficit. Only 8 percent of this group trusted Republicans more. Whites were more evenly split, but they favored Obama by only 29 percent—significantly less than they did congressional Republicans, 43 percent. The races came together on some issues. For instance, on the question of freezing nondefense domestic programs such as education, parks, and housing—one Republican idea—61 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 68 percent of non-Hispanic blacks somewhat or strongly opposed such a freeze.
The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, interviewed 1,006 adults by landline and cell phone from Sept. 15 to Sept. 18 for most of the questions in the survey; those questions have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Congress is moving into a tumultuous few months—the so-called super committee is to offer its suggested cuts just before Thanksgiving, and Congress must act on these recommendations before Christmas lest automatic, across-the-board cuts take place. Some of the options have been suggested by both parties, yet they meet with some internal resistance. Democrats have discussed raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. A resounding majority of Democrats—64 percent—somewhat or strongly oppose raising the age. Even 51 percent of Republicans share those sentiments.
Conversely, 50 percent of Republicans strongly or somewhat support converting Medicare into a program that provides seniors with a fixed sum of money to purchase private insurance, but fully 39 percent of Republicans somewhat or strongly oppose this measure. That sizable minority suggests that some GOP ideas for cutting the deficit still face significant opposition within the party. And even when some demographic groups do favor one idea, it doesn’t necessarily translate into political support. For instance, among those white men with some college or less, 53 percent somewhat or strongly oppose this Medicare idea. Although the president opposed it vociferously, he polls poorly among this group.
Age is another dividing line. Only 27 percent of voters over 65 trusted Obama to make the right decisions about cutting the deficit, while 47 percent sided with congressional Republicans. This suggests that the president’s efforts to portray himself as the champion of entitlement programs that the elderly have come to reply upon—Medicare and Social Security—have faltered. For whatever reason, Republican inroads with elderly voters are validated by the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
The bottom line: For Congress, it seems, there’s no easy way to cut the budget and appeal to their constituencies, let alone forge a national majority.
This article appears in the September 21, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.