Running counter to arguments Paul Krugman recently made on MSNBC's Morning Joe that the long-term deficit is not as much of a problem as the political class assumes, the Reason-Rupe poll finds 75 percent of Americans believe the federal budget deficit is a major problem that must be addressed now. Only 20 percent believe it is a major problem that should be addressed later when the economy is better. Among Americans who approve of President Obama's job performance, 62 percent also believe it is a major problem that must be addressed now, 30 percent think the problem is important but can be addressed later.
Krugman argues that America's long-term deficit is not the problem the American political class insists it is, but qualified this by saying "I'd like to see us paying down the debt but not at the cost of depressing the economy right now." Dumbfounded, Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough responded with an op-ed in Politico arguing that deficits and the debt actually are problems.
Krugman and other faithful Keynesians have had nearly a century to convince the public that spending money we haven't yet made or saved can stimulate the economy, so far they have not yet proved successful. Not only does the public believe the federal budget deficit needs to be addressed now rather than later, 57 percent believe that reducing government spending will mostly help the economy, only 21 percent think it would mostly harm the economy.
This suggests one reason the public wants to address the deficit now is that they are concerned it could be preventing the economy from recoverying faster. This is actually in line with what Harvard economist Alberto Alesina found in his research, reported in the Wall Street Journal.
Although most Americans agree on this issue, to the extent that they disagree is correlated with partisanship. Republicans believe the federal budget deficit must be addressed now rather than later by a margin of 87 to 10 percent, similarly Independents agree 80 to 15 percent. Democrats also agree, but by a significantly lower margin, 64 to 30 percent.
This debate highlights a possible reason the national debt continues to grow and unfunded liabilities continue to skyrocket, the Keynesian adherents still aren't convinced deficit spending and mounting public debt actually is a significant problem. At this point, the burden of proof falls on the Keynesians to prove that spending money we haven't yet made or saved does actually create healthy, meaningful, and sustainable growth.
Nationwide telephone poll conducted January 17th-21st 2013 interviewed 1000 adults on both mobile (500) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.8%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here. Full poll results found here.