WASHINGTON — The budget cuts in Washington have not hit home in America, at least not yet.
A plurality of Americans think federal spending cuts will have no effect at all on them or their families, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll. At the same time, as many Americans think the cuts will have no effect or a positive effect on the overall economy as think the cuts will hurt the economy, the survey found.
The numbers underscore how the politics of the spending fight in Washington have yet to be settled in the country, and why the two major parties could continue to struggle to reach accord in budget debates over coming months.
President Barack Obama has not yet convinced the majority that the cuts will be bad for them and their country as he has tried. He has hoped the country would rise up in anger at the spending cuts and force Republicans to agree to an alternative plan to curb the deficit that includes tax increases and fewer spending cuts.
And the impact of the spending cuts now being implemented likely will not become any clearer before Obama and Congress move on to other budget debates in coming weeks. Unpaid days off for some federal workers, for example, will not start for several more weeks at least.
“In the early innings, people are not seeing the immediacy of this,” said Lee Miringoff, Director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.
“They do think its going to be more negative than positive. They’re worried about a fragile economy. But in terms of themselves, almost half don’t think it’s going to have an effect. They feel isolated from the impact.”
Nearly half – 49 percent – of registered voters said the current cuts will have no impact at all on them or their families. Another 39 percent said the cuts would have a negative impact, and 10 percent said they would have a positive impact.
Independents and Republicans are more likely to see no effect headed their way.
Among independents, 52 percent expect no effect, 39 percent expect a negative effect, and 7 percent expect a positive effect.
Among Republicans, it’s 52-36-8.
Democrats are evenly split, 41-41 on whether the cuts will be negative or have no impact on their families. In a surprise, 14 percent of Democrats expect a positive impact for themselves, well more than independents or Republicans.
.Thinking beyond their own families, 47 percent of voters think the spending cuts now starting to take effect will have a negative impact on the economy, while 27 percent said they will have no effect and 20 percent said they will have a positive effect.
Economists expect the automatic cuts – called a sequester – to reduce growth this year by two-tenths of a percentage point to seven-tenths of a point.
Generally, voters by 53-37 prefer to reduce the deficits by mostly cutting government programs and services rather than mostly by raising taxes. Working Americans just had a tax increase in January when Obama and the Congress decided to let a temporary cut in the payroll tax for Social Security expire.
“Voters are not in a mood to increase taxes,” said Miringoff.
Yet voters favor spending cuts for just three areas of the budget – defense, energy and unemployment benefits – when given specific choices.
They prefer to cut defense spending over raising taxes by 53-39.
Solid majorities of Democrats and independents prefer to cut defense rather than raise taxes, 55-39 for Democrats and 59-35 for independents. Even among Republicans there was sizeable support for cutting defense spending, with GOP voters split 43-49 for defense cuts over tax increases.
“I don’t think defense is hands off for Republicans as much as it used to be,” said Miringoff.
Among voters choices on other parts of the budget:
-by 57-35 they prefer to cut energy spending rather than raise taxes;
-by 55-38 they prefer to cut spending on jobless benefits rather than raise taxes;
-by 65-31 they prefer to raise taxes than cut spending on education;
-by 60-33 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Social Security;
-by 57-36 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicare;
-by 53-40 they prefer to raise taxes than cut spending for transportation including roads and bridges;
-by 50-42 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicaid.
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