Should the federal government concentrate on paying off its debt, even if it comes at the expense of a more robust economic recovery? Or should it focus on stimulating the economy, even if that means running up more costs?
According to a poll published Wednesday, 59 percent of Americans want the government to make national debt reduction its top priority, even if it comes at the expense of kick-starting the economy. Only a third think the focus should be on stimulation.
The findings are perhaps surprising, since unemployment remains at 9.1 percent and poll after poll shows that Americans are worried about the health of the economy. Earlier this week, it was reported that 67 percent of respondents to a Harris Interactive poll had purchased generic brands in the past six months in order to save money.
Yet the new poll, conducted by McClatchy-Marist, suggests that a generous margin of Americans are concerned with the long-term economic picture, rather than the more immediate.
The McClatchy-Marist poll asked 1,003 adults what the top priority of the federal government should be. "To reduce the debt even if the economy is slow to recover"? Fifty-nine percent said yes. "To stimulate the weak economy even if it costs more money"? Thirty-three percent said yes.
Eight percent of respondents were unsure.
These attitudes were reflected in similar proportions across various regions and age and demographic groups. The most striking divisions occurred within political-identity groups: 45 percent of registered Democrats favored debt reduction, versus 50 percent favoring economic stimulus. Seventy-nine percent of registered Republicans favored debt reduction, versus just 15 percent favoring economic stimulus.
Among independents, 61 percent favored debt reduction and 32 percent economic stimulus.
The poll marks a departure from other recent surveys about the big concerns facing Americans. In a March Gallup poll, the economy topped a list of 14 national issues Americans said they spent a "great deal" of time worrying about -- though the budget deficit came in second on that list. And a June Gallup poll found that by age, income, race, gender, and political affiliation, each one of 14 subgroups measured was more likely to name "the economy" or unemployment as the nation's most important problem.
However, the McClatchy-Marist report does align with a series of 2011 polls -- from various organizations, including Rasmussen Reports, CBS News, and the conservative polling organization Resurgent Republic -- that show Americans in favor of spending cuts, especially if given a choice between that and higher taxes.