Deficit-reduction mania has not swept the public

DEFICIT-REDUCTION MANIA HAS NOT SWEPT THE PUBLIC…. Democrats will very likely feel pretty discouraged about the new Washington Post/ABC News poll — the news for the party is hardly encouraging. There were, however, a few tidbits for the political world to keep in mind.

In terms of the top-line results, Republicans will likely be delighted — President Obama’s approval rating is down; the public is deeply unhappy about the state of the economy; and Republicans enjoy a one-point edge in the generic congressional ballot, after Democrats led in each of the last four months. Among voters most likely to show up on Election Day, the GOP’s margin is much larger.

There were a couple of trends that jumped out at me, though, beyond the obvious numbers. The first is that the public, while discouraged and pessimistic about the status quo, still doesn’t much care for Republicans.

Respondents were asked, for example, how much confidence they have in various leaders to “make the right decisions for the country’s future.” For Obama, the number is 43%. For congressional Democrats, it’s 32%. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, is a distant third at 26%. Indeed, while support for Obama’s handling on the economy has fallen quite a bit, the poll asked which political party voters “trust to do a better job handling the economy.” Democrats still lead Republicans by eight points.

Dems aren’t faring well in this political landscape, but it’s not because voters are moving in large numbers to the GOP.

Arguably more important were questions about public attitudes on economic policy. The conventional wisdom suggests the public wants to curtail spending and is sympathetic to the right’s arguments on prioritizing deficit reduction. The data is hardly one sided.

“Do you think the federal government should spend more money to try to boost the economy in a way that creates jobs, or do you think that whether or not jobs are created should be left to the private sector?”

I don’t love the wording of the question, since it seems to favor a conservative perspective — the phrasing neglects to mention that more public spending can in turn boost private sector hiring. Nevertheless, the public was split — 48% to 48%. For lawmakers convinced there’s a “backlash” against spending, results like these should matter.

There was also this:

“Because of the economic downturn, Congress has extended the period in which people can receive unemployment benefits, and is considering doing so again. Supporters say this will help those who can’t find work. Opponents say this adds too much to the federal budget deficit. Do you think Congress should or should not approve another extension of unemployment benefits?”

It wasn’t even close — 62% want to extend unemployment benefits, 36% are more concerned with the deficit. For those who blocked the Senate from voting on this — three times in three weeks — the argument was that Americans, overcome with deficit-reduction mania, want Congress to stop spending. The evidence to the contrary is pretty clear.

Over to you, Ben Nelson.