When the majority is misguided

WHEN THE MAJORITY IS MISGUIDED…. A new CNN poll shows more Americans shifting their blame for the Republican recession away from the Republicans. As recently as May, 53% said Republicans are “more responsible for the country’s current economic problems,” while 21% blamed Democrats. In the newly released poll, a 38% plurality holds the GOP responsible, while 27% point the finger at Democrats.

That is, to be sure, disappointing, given reality. But the trend suggests public patience is waning — the electorate expects Democrats to fix the problems they inherited from Republicans faster.

But that’s not the most frustrating aspect of the poll. This is:

“Which of the following comes closer to your view of the budget deficit — the government should run a deficit if necessary when the country is in a recession and is at war, or the government should balance the budget even when the country is in a recession and is at war?”

Given the precarious state of the economy and widespread concerns about unemployment, common sense suggests concerns over the deficit should wane. But the poll found that a whopping 67% of respondents want the emphasis to be on deficit reduction, while 30% see the deficit as necessary under the circumstances. Those results are very similar to those from an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken a few weeks ago.

It’s probably worth noting that the majority is hopelessly wrong. I’m not even sure if the majority fully understands what the deficit is, why it’s large, what would be needed to make it smaller, and how it fits into the larger economic landscape. For many, it seems the “deficit” is just an amorphous concept that loosely means “bad economy.”

Which is why it’s important that policymakers not base policy decisions on illiteracy. Americans say they want a stronger job market and a better economic growth. They also say they want less spending, lower taxes, and an immediate focus on deficit reduction. The inherent contradictions are lost on far too many.

Matt Yglesias recently explained:

A lot of politicians and political operatives in DC are very impressed by polling that shows people concerned about the budget deficit. I think it would be really politically insane for people to take that too literally. If Congress makes the deficit even bigger in a way that helps spur recovery, then come election day people will notice the recovery and be happy. If, by contrast, the labor market is still a disaster then people will be pissed off. It’s true that they might say they’re pissed off at the deficit, but the underlying source of anger is the objective bad conditions.

Once in a while, policymakers have to be responsible enough to ignore polls and do the right thing. If these results are accurate, people care more about the deficit than the economy. But that’s crazy.