That can’t be right

THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT…. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today covered quite a bit of ground, but this tidbit about the economy stood out, in large part because it doesn’t seem right.

A solid majority — 58% — said that the president and Congress should focus on keeping the budget deficit down, even if takes longer for the economy to recover.

That’s hard to believe. Most Americans, during a severe economic downturn, would prefer that the recession last longer in order for policy makers to focus on deficit reduction? I realize the deficit has gotten a lot of play from Republicans and the media, but this result seems odd. Most of what we’ve heard for months is a public demand to get the economy moving again; no other concern comes close.

Indeed, it’s the kind of poll result that should cause great concern to Democrats. The message from Dems, in effect, has been, “We’ll run deficit now to help spark a recovery.” This poll suggests the proper response is, “We’d rather have a longer recession than high deficits.”

Part of me wonders whether respondents didn’t understand the question. Elsewhere in the exact same poll, people were asked to choose from a list of policy issues which was the most important for the federal government to address, and which was the second most important. If a 58% majority want deficit reduction to take precedence over economic recovery, you’d expect to see the deficit as the top concern.

But that’s not what happened. “Job creation and economic growth” was easily the top priority. Deficit reduction and health care were tied for second.

Later, in the same poll, respondents were asked to identify the “most important economic issue facing the country.” Unemployment beat out the budget deficit by double digits.

With that in mind, here’s hoping policy makers ignore the poll, address economic recovery now, and tackle deficit reduction later.