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New Poll Shows Political Futility Of Deficit Reduction

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Neither President Barack Obama nor congressional Republicans are getting much credit for the falling deficit. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

The budget deficit is the lowest it has been since President Barack Obama took office, according to a Congressional Budget Office report this week. But don't expect that to matter to the American people.

In fact, the deficit has been falling steadily since 2009. Yet a new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that Americans still think the deficit is going up and disapprove of Washington politicians accordingly.

It's a painful irony for the jobless, whose livelihoods were sacrificed in the pursuit of deficit reduction over the past several years. Beginning in 2010, the White House shifted its focus from growing the economy to reducing the deficit, hoping to win over swing voters thought to be turned off by too much government spending. As public jobs were slashed and government spending slowed, the economy took the predicted hit. But as the survey shows, there was no political gain that came with the pain.

The administration has since pivoted away from talk of belt tightening and shifted back toward economic growth -- which, economists have pointed out all along, is the fastest way to reduce the deficit.

According to the new poll, 54 percent of Americans think the budget deficit has increased since Obama took office in 2009, while only 19 percent know it has decreased. Fourteen percent think it has stayed the same since Obama became president.

People often conflate the deficit with the national debt, so the poll made sure to describe and ask about each. Because the government is still running deficits -- though markedly smaller ones -- the debt has increased throughout Obama's presidency. The difference between those saying the deficit is rising and those who said the debt is increasing was small -- with 62 percent of people saying the debt was expanding. Even with the clear description of the definition of the deficit, fewer than one in five correctly answered that it has shrunk under Obama.

There is something of a partisan divide here. Eighty-five percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents said they believed the budget deficit had gone up since Obama took office, while only 32 percent of Democrats believed the same.

But even members of the president's own party don't necessarily think the deficit has decreased. Only 30 percent of Democrats said the deficit had fallen -- again, the correct answer. A combined 53 percent said the deficit had either stayed the same (21 percent) or risen (32 percent).

The poll was conducted before the Congressional Budget Office report, released Tuesday, said the deficit has decreased to $514 billion, the lowest since Obama took office in 2009.

Given that Americans don't know the deficit is falling, it's not surprising that they aren't giving either Obama or congressional Republicans any love on the issue. Fifty-two percent said they disapproved and only 37 percent said they approved of the way the president is handling the deficit. By an even greater 68 percent to 21 percent margin, they also disapproved of congressional Republicans' handling of the issue.

The poll found a political division on Obama's handling of the deficit. Seventy percent of Democrats said they approved of the president's efforts, while 59 percent of independents and 94 percent of Republicans said they disapproved.

Likewise, 81 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents said they disapproved of how Republicans in Congress were handling the issue. Ordinary Republicans were closely divided on how their political allies were doing. Forty-five percent said they approved and 46 percent said they disapproved of GOP lawmakers' handling of the deficit.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Jan. 28-29 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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