Poll after poll shows that fixing the economy and getting people back to work is the number one issue on voters’ minds these days. But, our recent NBC/WSJ survey shows that 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the country is concerned the federal government will spend too much money trying to boost the economy and as a result will drive up the budget deficit.

And, don’t be fooled that voters don’t “get it” when it comes to the budget deficit. In the January NBC/WSJ poll, by a two-to-one margin (61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-32{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) Americans said they think of the budget deficit as a real and important number that has a direct effect on the average citizen, rather than a bookkeeping and governmental number that does not have a direct impact on people.

In fact, in another national survey we recently conducted on behalf of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, fully two-thirds of voters (66{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) perceive the growing budget deficit and national debt as a “very big threat” to our country and our future. They ranked this issue at the top of a list of threats that included jobs moving overseas, hostile countries developing nuclear weapons, our education system not keeping pace with the global economy, and global climate change.

However, like everything else these days, it’s not that simple…voters have mixed feelings about WHEN we should address our budget problems. Forty-seven percent (47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) say “we must act now to address the deficit and national debt. Our economy will not be truly stable until we begin to solve these looming problems that threaten the long-term health and security of the American economy.” On the other hand, 43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say “given the current recession and other economic challenges, this is not the time to require additional sacrifices…Instead, we should address these issues after the economy turns around.”

Yet, there is some consensus around how we should approach dealing with our federal budget problems: That is, the more minds, the better. In the same Peterson Foundation poll a majority (56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of voters say they would prefer a bi-partisan commission to develop a package of reforms that Congress would be required to vote on its entirety, with limited or no opportunity to make changes, compared to 30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who say they would prefer the usual Congressional process.

Further, 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of voters (including 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats, 66{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independents, and 63{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans) agree that in addition to Members of Congress and senior officials from the Obama administration, the special bi-partisan commission should also include several independent experts on the federal budget and federal programs because these experts will bring additional knowledge and perspective and will not be as influenced by politics and political pressure.

Voters are clear: The national DEBT does matter. They want many minds working on the problem…so the question isn’t IF we should deal with it, the question is WHEN do we deal with it?

Public Opinion Strategies