Trillion – the new billion

It was a revelatory moment when I moderated a focus group of Congressional Hill staffers earlier this year and they laughed, no, jeered really, at the mention of billions of dollars.  “Billions?” one scoffed.  “It’s all trillions these days.”   


Such may be the warped world of Washington, but at least spending trillions of taxpayer dollars has not gone unnoticed by the American public.  In fact, increased government spending at a time when more Americans are placing tighter reins on their own purse strings is one of the greatest concerns voters have about the President in these early days of his first term. 


The latest national survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies demonstrates that increased government spending and tackling too many things at once are the major concerns of voters when asked to choose their greatest concern about the President:


            26%    His proposals for increased government spending go too far

            26%    He’s trying to take on too many issues

            15%    His proposals will result in higher taxes

            15%    He’s not winning bipartisan support for his policies

              4%    He’s too focused on foreign affairs


The concerns about the President taking on too many issues or not receiving enough bipartisan support are largely attributed to his core supporters.  However, concerns about government spending rise to the top among some voter sub-groups important in the next election.  For example, in 14 key swing states, and similarly, in states where Obama won with less than 5% of the vote, voters’ top concern about the President is that government spending has gone too far (28% and 27% cite the issue, respectively).   Moreover, voter sub-groups who tend to pay the most attention to public policy – college-educated voters, opinion elites and those who say they follow politics closely – are all more likely to cite the increased government spending as their major concern. 


The impact on the deficit is clearly connected to this concern about government spending, based on other research we have conducted.  A recent AP survey of adults conducted April 16-20th demonstrated that “nearly 80% believe that the rising federal debt will hurt future generations.”   Fellow POS partner Bill McInturff’s polling on behalf of NBC/Wall Street Journal (conducted with Democratic pollster Peter Hart) showed last month that Americans are skeptical that the President will be able to make a dent in all this debt.  Just 31% said that it is likely that Obama will be able to “cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term.” 


With the cavalier attitude demonstrated recently by those on the Hill, voter skepticism seems quite well founded. 

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