Among President Obama's lowest ratings are the ones he receives for his handling of the budget deficit, an issue that nearly nine in ten Americans say concerns them. In this week's Economist/YouGov Poll, just 32% of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling the deficit, while nearly twice as many, 59%, disapprove. And while Americans say the way to reduce the budget deficit is to reduce spending, there is little consensus on exactly how to do that.

Nearly three in four Americans say that the government should cut spending --- a sentiment shared by majorities of Democrats as well as Republicans. There is less agreement on what to do about taxes, especially among Democrats. While 51% of Republicans believe taxes should be decreased, Democrats are more closely divided.

Overall, do you think that the federal government should increase or decrease the amount it spends?
  Total Democrats Republicans Independents
Increase 6% 12% 1% 4%
Keep the same 10% 18% 4% 7%
Decrease 73% 59% 90% 79%
Not sure 11% 11% 5% 10%
Do you think that the federal government should increase or decrease taxes?
  Total Democrats Republicans Independents
Increase 20% 33% 7% 22%
Keep the same 31% 31% 34% 32%
Decrease 37% 27% 51% 35%
Not sure 11% 9% 8% 12%

And Americans say they personally are willing to suffer from budget cuts: 52% agree that to help reduce the budget deficit, they would be willing to cut programs that benefit people like themselves. The feeling is different when it comes to a willingness to increase taxes on people like themselves in order to help reduce the budget deficit. 59% of Americans reject that option.

Cutting programs - even those that benefit people like themselves - is much more acceptable to Republicans than to Democrats, more acceptable to men than to women, and more acceptable to those in higher income brackets than to those in lower brackets. 72% of those earning 100,000 a year or more are willing to suffer cuts in programs than benefit people like themselves; only 38% of those with incomes below 40,000 a year are.
The President's current budget proposal protects government spending on five items: education, clean energy technologies, medical research, high-speed rail, and providing high-speed internet access for most households. 60% of Americans (and 84% of Republicans) would cut one of those priorities; but 66% (and 57% of Republicans would increase spending on at least one of them.

President Obama has submitted a budget that freezes spending on most discretionary Federal programs (not making any changes to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security), reduces spending or even eliminates about 200 Federal programs, but protects Federal spending on a few priorities, such as:

  • Education
  • Clean energy technologies
  • Medical research
  • High-speed rail transportation
  • High-speed internet connections to almost all U.S. households

But the cuts Americans are willing to make here may be those that don't affect them personally. Cutting high-speed rail funding (which many Americans would not directly benefit from) ranks first, followed by providing high-speed internet access (which many Americans already have). Hardly any Americans would choose to cut spending on education, clean energy technology, and medical research. Those three items are what people would increase spending on.

Image source: flickr (hunter.gatherer)

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