The American People: Smarter Than They Look On TV

New public opinion research by the Economic Policy Institute contains reassuring findings. The American people are smarter than they sometimes look on TV.

The survey of 802 registered voters in September 2009, revealed a clear sense of who’s winning and who’s losing in the economy and politics. People were asked who “the government’s policies to deal with the economic recession have helped.” The frontrunner was “large banks” (62 percent) followed by “Wall Street investment companies” (54 percent). Trailing way behind were “people who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut back” (15 percent) and the “average working person” (13 percent). “Me and my family” came in last place at ten percent.

Joe the teabagger might be getting hoodwinked about who he should march against — but he knows who (still) calls the shots in Washington. He’s right to be angry.

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Source: Economic Policy Institute

The EPI survey contains findings ratified elsewhere about economic pessimism. 85 percent of registered voters think the country is “still in recession” and 73 percent rate economic conditions as “not so good” or “poor.” 83 percent consider unemployment a “big problem.” Lack of jobs is the biggest problem in the economy, followed closely by the federal deficit and the cost of health care.

But EPI probes deeper than most surveys, and reveals profound insights about American long range thinking. Specifically focusing on the deficit, EPI asks whether it is better resolved by investing in “job creation, education and energy” or by “cutting government spending.” More than three times as many Americans preferred investment to cuts (73 v. 24 percent).

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Source: Economic Policy Institute

This mirrors findings from our own poll, taken at this time last year, just before the election. We asked, “Which should be a higher priority for Congress: Expanding public investments that create jobs, even if that means increasing the budget deficit, OR reducing the budget deficit, even if that means not making new investments to create jobs.”

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Source: Campaign for America’s Future

Expanding public investments solidly outscored reducing the deficit (48 percent vs. 37 percent). The finding was consistent in both red states (by a 12-point margin) and blue states (by a 10-point margin).

The preference held even when we asked the question in political terms: “Democrats in Congress favor passing new economic recovery legislation designed to boost the economy and create jobs by increasing investments in areas such as transportation, energy, health care, and education, and by helping families struggling with high food and energy prices. President Bush and Republicans in Congress oppose the legislation, which they say is just more wasteful, pork-barrel spending and earmarks that will not help our economy and will lead to tax increases in the future.”

Again, people favored long-term investments: 52 percent of likely voters sided with investing Democrats. Only 36 percent sided with tax-cutting Republicans.

What does this mean? It means the noisy teabaggers and the mainstream media worried about high deficits and government spending are the start but not the end of the story. There’s much more. We need to look beyond the urgency and the noise.

If we ask the right questions or push in the right direction, the American people might come with us. Long range investments. Spending on infrastructure or education. A whole raft of progressive goals that cost money in the short term but will grow the economy and reduce the deficit in the long run.

It’s work but we can get there. The American people are smarter than they sometimes look on TV. They’re capable of understanding long range investments, and they’re willing to look ahead.

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