- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Besides the potential for war, the budget process and deficits are the other talk of the town these days in Washington. So much so that you would think a balanced budget or lower deficits garner a magical appeal with voters not so. Americans seem ready to trade off a little higher deficit for a growing economy a view that may help proponents of tax cuts navigate the nettlesome issue of short-term deficits. Voters also identify uncontrolled spending, not tax cuts or a potential war, as the main culprit for the growing red ink. Finally, voters are sophisticated in their attitudes about the potential cure for the deficit, noting that it is not an easy problem to fix. Those are the highlights of our most recent survey data from the March edition of the American Survey (conducted March 4-6 among 600 registered voters; margin of error of plus/minus 4 percent).

First, people care more about an improved economy than the federal deficit. When asked to choose which was more important, 76 percent chose an improved economy; only 18 percent preferred a balanced federal budget. This is consistent with our historical experience on this question, although the emphasis on the economy is even greater now. When we first asked this question in January 2002, 64 percent chose an improved economy; only 14 percent preferred a balanced federal budget a sure sign that another year of stagnant growth and stock market decline is taking a toll on voters.

Second, it is difficult to bamboozle people about the causes of the deficit they know it is a product of unrestrained spending. By a sizable majority, respondents identify the real cause of deficit spending as the federal government's inability to control its desire to spend (64 percent), rather than the effects of the tax cut (14 percent) or the war (13 percent). Even liberals pin the blame on spending (55 percent) rather than the tax cut (27 percent).

Finally, voters grasp the complexities and difficulties of solving the federal budget deficit. By a huge margin (80 percent to 15 percent) and across demographic and ideological groups, people think that fixing deficits is not easy.

An electorate savvy about the difficulties of "fixing" the problem, and willing to accept higher short-term deficits, should provide a fertile environment for policy-makers advocating economic growth through tax cuts. We hope Congress heeds the voters' advice.

Gary J. Andres is a senior managing partner with the Dutko Group and a former White House senior lobbyist. Michael McKenna is co-founder of Andres-McKenna Research and a vice president at the DutkoGroup. E-mail: Mike.Mckenna@armpolling.com.

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