The Pew Research Center, funded by the non-partisan Pew Charitable Trusts, has seven “projects”, each of which researches the attitudes of Americans on a wide range of issues. One of those centers is the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Its Director is Andrew Kohut, who also serves as President of the parent Research Center. Mr. Kohut is the former President of The Gallup Organization and the founder of Princeton Survey Research Associates, an opinion research firm specializing in media, politics, and public policy studies. The work of the various Center projects is a fantastic resource for analysts concerned with public opinion.
Mr. Kohut published a commentary today, taking a look at American attitudes on the subject of government debt and deficits. I am going to share a small portion of his text and a couple of the charts from his commentary here today, then a link to the full commentary at the end of today’s post. I think they do an excellent job of describing a serious disconnect. Specifically, here are his first two paragraphs, two of the charts, and then his last two paragraphs.
The issue of the debt and the deficit – and what to do about it – has paralyzed Washington lawmakers. But when it comes to measures for reducing the deficit on which they might reach common ground, they will get little help in building support for an agreement by turning to public opinion.
In my years of polling, there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance – and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions.
The high level of disappointment and frustration reflected by this public reaction poses a serious conundrum for those in Washington wrestling with the debt and deficit issue – they are dealing with a public that is demanding solution to a problem which it has declared to be a major priority, but at the same time Americans are resistant, or divided at best, on the sacrifices that would be required to achieve a solution.
The bottom line appears to be that if the deficit and related entitlement programs are to be addressed, it may well have to be in spite of public opinion, not in response to it.
I think this is enough to get the point across very clearly. This disconnect has been a source of increasing anxiety on my part for several years. I see it and hear it all the time. As far as I am concerned, it is the result of a failure of leadership. We are in a serious crisis and the American people know it, if no other reason than so many are suffering from it. But instead of being presented with a plan to deal with it, they are presented with glittering generalities from all sides. However, the primary responsibility lies where Harry Truman told us the “buck” can be found – on the desk in the Oval Office of the White House.
After years of crisis, the absence of a clear and coherent plan is a disgrace. I am an Independent with no agenda for either political party or any candidate, but President Obama has dropped the ball on this and it has led to this disconnect. If the President’s name had been McCain and the situation anything similar to what it is today, I would say exactly the same thing.
Today, right now, we should be discussing the plan, not waiting for one. The US has been sharply and angrily divided on issues and the plans of Presidents to address those issues in the past, but today, without a plan to debate, we are left with only our anger and fear, and we have turned that on each other. “Demonization” is a word we can do without, but it is a constant in today’s America. Give us a plan and we can debate that and leave the demonization to the fringe elements. But without a plan, we are left where Mr. Kohut finds us – lost, confused, unrealistic, and divided.
I know. Any plan to deal with a debt crisis this severe, this long-lasting, and now very global in nature is going to mean pain. That pain will be felt by everyone before this is over. This is not rocket science. But until we have a plan, we won’t know how that pain is to be divided and how we intend to get to a time when the pain can cease and America can begin to grow again for everyone.
I will listen to what President Barack Obama has to say. I will listen to what Governor Mitt Romney has to say. And I will also listen to what Governor Gary Johnson, the currently less-known Libertarian candidate, has to say. All three have political and administrative backgrounds that can be critical to getting something done, to providing us with a plan, but only if he has one and is willing to share it.
The occasion has arisen for great leadership, but no one has yet risen to the occasion. We need a plan and we need it now, not in a year or after the next mid-term elections. We need it now. Until then, Mr. Kohut’s final comment will remain sadly valid, “there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance – and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions.”
Mr. Kohut’s full commentary can be found here.