Parsing the Polls: The Era of Big Government (Or Not)
The new Washington Post/ABC News national poll provides scads of good news for President Obama: two-thirds of Americans approve of the job he is doing; he receives little blame for the current state of the economy; and he is far more trusted than Republicans in Congress to solve the nation's problems both foreign and domestic.
But, amid all of the positive data, one potentially sour note caught our ear; the country remains deeply conflicted about the role government should play in their lives.
Asked whether increased government spending to improve the economy or a smaller spending approach in order to keep the deficit under control was more important to them, 49 percent chose the spending option while 47 percent opted for the deficit choice.
Those numbers compare unfavorably to Post/ABC polling done days before Obama's inauguration when 51 percent said increased spending was more important while 44 percent opted for an avoidance of further deficit spending.
Why does this data point matter? Because President Obama has made clear that he believes the era of small government is over and that, while the government can't solve all of peoples' problems, it clearly has to play a larger role than it did during the Bush administration.
In a major speech on the economy delivered a week before he was inaugurated as the 44th president, Obama argued: "Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending."
In office he has put that rhetoric to action, using government spending to spark job creation, shore up the nation's banks and likely to prop up the fading American automobile industry.
Republicans, in turn, have sought to paint Obama as a traditional liberal Democrat who believes that spending the government's money and raising taxes is the only way to solve the problems facing the country. (Voters don't appear to be buying that particular line of attack, however. In the Post poll just 32 percent said Obama was an "old style, tax-and-spend Democrat" while 62 percent said he was a "new style Democrat who will be careful with the public's money.")
What's clear from the Post poll is that while Obama still gets the benefit of the doubt -- in a substantial way -- from voters, the underlying premise of his plans to rebuild the nation's economy remains a somewhat risky move politically as voters are genuinely conflicted about significantly adding to the size of the national debt.
The last eight years have convinced voters that they need government in their lives. To what extent the government should be involved, however, remains a point of debate.
March 31, 2009; 3:18 PM ET
Categories: Parsing the Polls
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