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Public pays little attention to federal spending cuts, poll shows

February 26, 2013|By David Lauter
  • President Obama speaks to governors on looming budget cuts. He's counting on public anger to give him leverage in his standoff with Republicans, but polls suggest most people aren't paying much attention.
President Obama speaks to governors on looming budget cuts. He's… (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)

A majority of Americans think the automatic government spending cuts that are set to begin taking effect Friday will do more harm than good, a new poll indicates, but few say they are paying much attention to the issue, and most do not expect the cuts to have a major impact on their personal finances.

The relative lack of attention to the cuts, known as "the sequester," contrasts with the high amount of interest the public showed in the last round of the budget standoff between President Obama and congressional Republicans -- the year-end “fiscal cliff.” Four in 10 Americans said in December that they were closely following news about the fiscal cliff, but only one-quarter say that about the current budget fight, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center.

In the latest Pew survey, conducted Thursday through Sunday for the Washington Post, 60% of Americans said they expected the government spending cuts to have a major impact on the economy, and, by 3 to 1, they said the impact would be mostly negative. But fewer than one-third said they expected to see a major impact on their personal finances. By contrast, 43% expected that the “fiscal cliff” would have a major impact on them personally.

The fiscal cliff would have included immediate tax increases on nearly all working Americans. By contrast, the automatic spending cuts will phase in over time, and their impact on most people will be relatively diffuse – longer lines at airports, perhaps, or less maintenance at national parks. In the survey, Americans earning less than $30,000 were significantly more likely than others to say the cutbacks would affect them personally.

Beyond the personal impact, another factor in the lower level of interest now may be fatigue over the repeated rounds of budget battling in Washington.

All that is probably bad news for the Obama administration. The poll shows, as have other surveys have, that the public is more likely to blame Republicans than Obama for failure to prevent the spending cuts. But administration officials are counting on public outrage over the effects of the cuts to give them leverage with Congress to try to come up with a deal to replace them. Obama has insisted that any such deal must still reduce the long-term deficit and must include new taxes on the wealthiest Americans to accomplish that goal. Republicans say they will not consider any new taxes.

If the public reaction to the cuts remains muted, Obama’s strategy would suffer.

The poll surveyed 1,000 adults by telephone, including land lines and cell phones. The result have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

David.Lauter@latimes.com

On Twitter @DavidLauter

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