Polls show that President Obama is winning the advance-blame game in the sequester battle, but the looming cuts to domestic and defense spending are not registering with most people outside the Washington echo chamber.
With less than a week to go before the $85 billion automatic spending cuts take hold, polls show that most of the public isn't even paying close attention to the ongoing fiscal fight and thinks Congress should let the cuts kick in as scheduled March 1.
A Pew Research Center and USA Today poll released Thursday that survey showed that 27 percent of the 1,504 adults polled nationwide have heard a lot about these cuts, 43 percent have heard a little and 29 percent are completely in the dark.
The poll, conducted from Feb. 13-18, also found that if Congress fails to hammer out an alternative deficit reduction plan 49 percent of those polled support delaying the cuts, while 40 percent support having them take hold.
"After a series of fiscal crises over the past few years, the public is not expressing a particular sense of urgency over the pending March 1 sequester deadline. With little more than a week to go, barely a quarter have heard a lot about the scheduled cuts, while about as many have heard nothing at all," the poll found.
However, those paying closer attention tend to disagree with the broader public about whether lawmakers should let the sequester just happen.
"Those who say they have heard a lot about the potential spending cuts are more supportive of letting them take effect (47 percent) than those who have heard little or nothing about the issue (37 percent)," according to the poll.
The poll comes amid a flurry of finger-pointing between Mr. Obama and Republicans, with both sides saying the cuts threaten to derail the nation's fragile economic recovery.
So far the White House is winning the public relations battle, according to the Pew poll, with 49 percent saying they would blame congressional Republicans if an alternative deal fails to come to fruition, and 31 percent saying Mr. Obama would be at fault.
On Thursday, the two sides continued to lay out dueling doomsday scenarios, with the Obama administration pressuring Republicans to cancel the cuts and replace them with more tax increases and a different set of spending cuts.
"In eight days, harmful automatic cuts are slated to take effect, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs, and cutting vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform," said White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, countered by blaming the stalemate on Mr. Obama's push for tax increases, and saying the cuts would "degrade our military, "take Border Patrol agents off the job," and "let criminals run through the streets."
Still, Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports polling, said the sequester battle is not resonating with many voters.
"The sequester issue is huge inside the Beltway," Mr. Rasmussen said. "It is simply not as passionate an issue everywhere else."
In a poll conducted Feb. 6-7, Mr. Rasmussen found that 36 percent of the 1,000 likely voters surveyed said that the cuts should be stopped, while 30 percent said they should stay on schedule. The other 34 percent said they were "not sure" what to do about the cuts.
The respondents were basically split when asked whether the spending cuts should take effect or be replaced with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, as Mr. Obama has proposed.
The poll also showed that the overwhelming majority of the respondents recognized that the sequester would result in a reduction in the growth of spending, not an actual decrease from current spending levels.
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