WASHINGTON — Despite lingering anxiety over the Great Recession, Americans by a large margin want their federal government to focus more on cutting debt than on increasing spending even temporarily to boost the economy, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Given a choice, 59 percent of Americans prefer reducing debt even if that slows the economic recovery, while 33 percent prefer new government efforts to stimulate the economy even if it means more federal spending.
The public mood helps explain the political environment in the nation's capital, where talk of new stimulus plans for the weak recovery has faded and both major parties are looking at deep cuts in annual federal budget deficits, even if they wouldn't yet reduce the $14 trillion debt.
The nearly 2-1 preference for cutting debt comes as President Barack Obama negotiates with Congress over how to reduce the deficits. Obama wants a combination of spending cuts and tax increases; Republicans want only spending reductions.
Obama on Tuesday invited congressional leaders from both parties to resume talks at the White House on Thursday. In a brief public statement before TV cameras, he said he was hopeful of progress and that both sides must compromise.
Among those polled, people ages 18-29 were the most worried about the long-term debts. By 64-30 percent, they wanted the government to cut the debt.
Those ages 30-44 were the least worried about the debt and the most worried about the economy now. In that age group, 40 percent wanted the government to focus on stimulating the economy, while 51 percent wanted the top priority to be debt.
Among registered voters, Democrats were the only group that favored spending more to stimulate the economy rather than cutting debt, leaning that way by 50-45 percent. Independents favored targeting the debt by 61-32 percent, and Republicans by 79-15 percent.
The poll found Americans still worried about the fragile economy. Even though economists say the Great Recession ended in June 2009, 75 percent of those polled said we were still in recession and only 20 percent said it was over. Five percent were uncertain.
Even more glum, people thought by 53-42 percent that the worst was yet to come. For registered voters, the response was 50-45 percent. That's slightly less pessimistic than in April, when 57 percent of those polled thought the worst still lay ahead.
This month, Democrats were the only optimistic group, with 36 percent saying the worst was yet to come and 57 percent saying the worst was behind us. Republicans said the worst was yet to come by 68-29 percent, and independents by 48-47 percent.
The survey of 1,003 adults was conducted June 15-23. People 18 and older who live in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone. Telephone numbers were selected based on a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples then were combined. Results are statistically significant within 3.0 percentage points.
There are 801 registered voters in the survey. The results for this subset are statistically significant within 3.5 percentage points. The margin of error increases for cross-tabulations.
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