While President Obama is touting his federal budget for promoting “fairness,” the public sees the country’s economic problems in more subtle shades than the lawmakers who represent them.
A new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows a public divided in its concerns about the poor. In the survey, 53 percent of adults said they were most concerned that “the government taxes workers too much to fund programs for people who could get by without help,” but 38 percent cited as their greater worry that “federal programs don’t provide enough of a safety net for people who need help to get by.” By contrast, when respondents were asked why there was such a spike in the number of Americans receiving federal aid such as food stamps and housing vouchers, Americans seem more liberal in their views. Some 54 percent agreed that “high unemployment has left more people in need of government assistance,” while about 41 percent took a more conservative view that “government is providing benefits for too many people who don’t actually need them.”
A closer look at the data reveals interesting divisions in the electorate. For instance, if the two more-conservative answers are combined—the government taxes workers too much to pay for those who can get by, and government is providing benefits for too many people who don’t need them—then 27 percent of the public takes this position. Conversely, if the more-liberal answers are fused—federal programs don’t provide enough of a safety net, and high unemployment has left more people in need of assistance—some 25 percent of the public takes this position. The rest split, with 24 percent saying they worry that the government taxes workers too much and that the spike in government benefits stems from high unemployment. A much smaller segment of respondents—11 percent—took the position that the government is not providing enough of a safety net and that it is providing benefits for too many people who are able to work. Fault lines of race, gender, and income become apparent if one looks at the “cross tabs”—to use the parlance of pollsters. For instance, when broken down by party, the results seem somewhat predictable. Just 12 percent of Democrats answered in the affirmative that conservative pair of questions, while 40 percent went with the more liberal set. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 41 percent of Republicans went with the conservative answers and only 15 percent of self-identified Republicans backed the liberal position. Men leaned more conservative (32 percent to 21 percent) than women, who backed the liberal position (30 percent to 21 percent).
The poll showed opportunities and pitfalls alike for Obama and congressional Republicans as the election season nears. When asked whom they trust to produce a budget plan that reflects their priorities, survey respondents chose Obama over congressional Republicans by 47 percent to 37 percent. Seven percent said neither or both, and 8 percent didn’t know or refused to answer. The question was asked a few days before the administration presented its $3.8 trillion budget to Congress.
Men split almost evenly, with 44 percent favoring the Obama budget and 42 percent opposing. Women showed a larger split, suggesting signs of a gender gap for Republicans going into the election season. Some 50 percent of women backed the Obama budget and 33 percent supported congressional Republicans. When it came to race, a whopping 78 percent of black non-Hispanics favored the Obama budget, versus just 39 percent of white non-Hispanics. Among those white men with some college or less, only 32 percent supported the Obama budget, while 52 percent preferred that of congressional Republicans. The president seemed to have trouble with elderly white voters, too, despite the Democrats’ best efforts to attack various GOP plans to change entitlement programs such as Medicare. Among whites 65 and over, only 34 percent favored the Obama budget, while some 48 percent stood with congressional Republicans.
The Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,000 adults Feb. 9-12; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
This article appears in the Feb. 15, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.