A poll released this morning by ABC News claims that Americans broadly support cutting the federal budget “along the lines of the sequester that took effect last Friday,” even as those cuts jeopardize the health of the nation’s economy. By a margin of 61-33, the poll found, Americans support a “five percent cut” in the overall budget (the actual cuts to the domestic budget are around 12 percent). And while they oppose defense cuts, their support for cutting the general budget supposedly stretches across party lines:
Support for a five percent reduction in federal spending crosses party lines in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates; it includes 57 percent of Democrats, six in 10 independents and three-quarters of Republicans. Shaving eight percent off the military budget, on the other hand, is opposed by 73 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of independents, with Democrats split down the middle.
The poll, however, contains a fatal flaw that makes it virtually meaningless: it asks Americans only about the general idea of spending cuts, not about cuts to specific programs. In addition to the defense cuts Americans oppose, sequestration also means sweeping cuts to education, assistance for the poor, food and air travel safety, and every other federal program that wasn’t exempt from the law. And according to past polls that do ask about specific cuts, Americans don’t support cutting those programs. In fact, there is usually more support for increasing funding for specific programs than there is for cutting it, as the Pew Research Center found in February:
Of course, even if Americans do support cutting spending, that doesn’t make sequestration a smart policy idea. Government spending has traditionally helped pull the American economy out of recessions, spurring economic recoveries by making up for a lack of demand in the private sector and among consumers. But government spending levels have plateaued since 2010, and after stimulus spending initially boosted the economy, falling spending levels have hamstrung the current recovery.
In that sense, the idea Americans put forth in the Pew poll — that we should be increasing spending on targeted programs instead of cutting it — is a policy idea that would help bolster the recovery while avoiding the 700,000 lost jobs sequestration entails.