Economic growth vs. deficit reduction

ECONOMIC GROWTH VS. DEFICIT REDUCTION…. In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, respondents were asked to prioritize from a list of issues the federal government may address. “Job creation and economic growth” was easily the top priority (pdf), though it’s down a bit from July, and “health care” was second. Coming in third was “the deficit and government spending.”

But later in the poll, we find this:

Which of the following two statements comes closer to your point of view?

Statement A: The President and the Congress should worry more about boosting the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits now and in the future.

Statement B: The President and the Congress should worry more about keeping the budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover.

Given the seriousness of the economic crisis, and the demand for an improved job market, it stands to reason the first statement would draw much higher numbers. Indeed, when given an open-ended choice in the exact same poll, “job creation and economic growth” was a much higher priority than the budget deficit.

Except, the results weren’t even close — in the other direction. A 62% majority said policymakers should focus on deficit reduction, even if it means delaying economic growth, which is more than double the 30% who said it’s better to boost the economy. In June, prioritizing deficit reduction over economic growth also had a clear majority, but the margin is getting bigger not smaller.

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. Imagine politicians telling a person who’s lost her job and benefits, and who’s struggling to stay afloat, “Yeah, but at least I’ve helped lower the deficit by a fraction of a percent in relation to the GDP!”

If the poll is right, the majority is wrong. Following this line of thinking is a recipe for a double-dip recession.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.