Just like the experts, Americans are torn about whether the federal government should focus on curbing spending or creating jobs, the poll conducted July 9-12 shows. Seven of 10 Americans say reducing unemployment is the priority. At the same time, the public is skeptical of the Obama administration’s stimulus program and wary of more spending, with more than half saying the deficit is “dangerously out of control.” . . . The only deficit-reduction measure that gets strong support in the poll is higher taxes on upper-income Americans. . . . Asked about a range of options to cut the budget deficit, the public is willing to consider removing the cap on earnings covered by the Social Security tax, currently set at just under $107,000, and eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy enacted under Bush. . . .
One thing that should be unsurprising to readers of the political science literature is that people are often pretty uninformed about the economy, even when it comes to well-publicized statistics or personal experiences:
The public gives the Obama administration little credit for its tax cuts, which according to the Washington-based Tax Policy Center lowered federal income taxes for 93 percent of filers. Asked to compare their federal income taxes to what they paid during George W. Bush’s presidency, only 7 percent say they are lower; 20 percent say their taxes are higher and 65 percent say they are about the same.
This reminds me of Larry Bartels's finding from a survey that was conducted in 1988, at the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term, asking various questions about the government and economic conditions, including, “Would you say that compared to 1980, inflation has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?” Amazingly, over half of the self-identified strong Democrats in the survey said that inflation had gotten worse and only 8% thought it had gotten much better, even though the actual inflation rate dropped from 13% to 4% during Reagan’s eight years in office.
Finally, here's an interesting twist on the recent controversy about the extent to which voters care about deficits:
Americans’ anxieties over the economy are reflected in the top issues they see facing the country: Unemployment and jobs, cited by 41 percent, and the federal deficit, cited by 26 percent, dwarfed other concerns. . . . The two big priorities are reversed among respondents who say they will definitely vote in November and say the election is exceptionally important. A 41 percent plurality name the deficit as the top issue, compared with 33 percent who pick jobs among those who say they are intensely interested in the November congressional elections.
All of this seems consistent with Nate's argument that economics and partisanship are driving voters' concerns.