Deficit déjà vu: Why voters are so concerned and where they stand with the candidates

The vast majority of voters are concerned about the federal deficit and the national debt, with 26% “extremely concerned,” 26% “very concerned,” and 38% “somewhat concerned.”

This Blueprint poll was informed by an online sample of 1,114 respondents fielded over web panels on March 25 to March 26, and weighted to education, gender, race, respondent quality, and 2020 election results. The margin of error is +/- 5.1. The full toplines can be found here and crosstabs here.

 

Top Takeaways

✓ The vast majority of voters are concerned about the federal deficit and the national debt, with 26% “extremely concerned,” 26% “very concerned,” and 38% “somewhat concerned.”
✓ Voters are currently split on who they trust to reduce the deficit, but they trust Biden more to protect Social Security and Medicare and they are most likely to blame Trump’s tax cuts for the national debt.
✓ Biden’s approach to deficit reduction is popular: lowering Medicare prescription drug prices and making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.
✓ Trump and Republicans’approach to deficit reduction is unpopular: tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
✓ Young Black and Latino voters disproportionately believe that the deficit affects the economic situation in their area (with 93% saying it either “somewhat affects” or “strongly affects”).
✓ Voters earning under $75,000 are most concerned about the deficit’s impact on interest rates and taxes.

 

From Ross Perot’s charts to Bill Clinton’s saxophone solos, it seems the ghosts of elections past are haunting us once again. That’s why Blueprint today released a new poll that focuses on what voters think about the federal deficit—and which presidential candidate they trust more to reduce it.

And no, you’re not actually receiving an email from 1992. But since launching Blueprint, we’ve seen the deficit stand out in our polling in a way that’s often left us wondering if we’ve entered a time warp. Like slip dresses and flannel shirts, voters caring about deficit reduction is back in style, from independents and Haley voters to middle- and working-class voters and young voters of color.

Given the somewhat surprisingly high salience of the issue with voters in general—and, in particular, key voting blocs President Biden needs to win in November—our new poll focuses exclusively on concern about the federal deficit and the national debt, who and what voters blame for it, how they’d like to see it handled, and how Biden can leverage the issue to win over the voters he needs.

Our newest poll found that the vast majority of voters are concerned about the federal deficit and the national debt, with 26% “extremely concerned,” 26% “very concerned,” and 38% “somewhat concerned.”

The poll found that voters are currently almost evenly split on whether they have more trust in President Biden or Donald Trump to reduce the deficit. However, it also found that voters are more confident in Biden’s commitment to protecting Social Security and Medicare and the middle class when reducing the deficit, and that they identify Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations as a major driver of the national debt.

These findings present key messaging and voter persuasion opportunities for Biden around the federal deficit and national debt. After Trump added nearly $2 trillion to the deficit, Biden has cut it by at least $1.7 trillion—and he should make sure voters know it. Additionally, Biden’s approach to deficit reduction—including lowering Medicare prescription drug prices and making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share—is popular, while Republicans’ commitment to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy is not. The bottom line: When it comes to deficit reduction, voters want the wealthy to pay, not middle-class retirees.

The findings in our new survey align with our previous polling:

  • In our very first poll, we found that while only 46% of voters know President Biden has reduced the deficit by $1.7 trillion, 89% support it—making it one of the most popular Biden accomplishments of any we tested, on par with allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, banning junk fees, and capping insulin costs at $35 million a month for seniors. 
  • In our January poll that was focused on the all-important issues of prices and inflation, we found that 49% of voters believe that Biden’s $1.7 trillion deficit cut will reduce inflation (second only to investing in agricultural supply chains to reduce food prices), while 65% said it would benefit them personally (putting it right behind supply chains, banning junk fees, cracking down on price gouging, expanding Social Security, and Medicare drug price negotiations). 
  • And in our last poll, we found that a message that contrasted Biden’s deficit-reduction record with Trump’s large, deficit-increasing tax cuts for the wealthy was among the most popular with non-college voters, young (ages 18-29) voters, non-college women voters, and male voters under the age of 45. 

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR PRACTITIONERS

Based on our polling, a successful Democratic message—one that appeals to key voters—includes the following components:

  • When he was president, Donald Trump sent the federal deficit skyrocketing with his tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.
  • Now, Trump’s plan to pay for it is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Joe Biden won’t stand for it. 
  • As president, Biden has reduced the deficit by $1.7 trillion.
  • Biden will continue bringing down the deficit by making corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share. 
  • Biden is stopping price-gouging pharmaceutical companies from charging too much for prescription drugs. 
  • And Biden won’t let partisan politicians lay a finger on Social Security or Medicare.

KEY FINDINGS 

Voters Are Most Likely to Blame Trump’s Tax Cuts for the National Debt

We asked voters which specific policies they think have been contributing most to the national debt (respondents were able to select up to two policies). Overall, Trump’s tax cuts are the most frequently selected, with 34% choosing it. The second-most frequently selected policy is aid to Ukraine, with 29% of voters selecting it. 

Notably, respondents who voted for Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary are particularly likely to blame Trump’s tax cuts for the national debt, with 65% selecting it. 34% of Black voters selected Trump’s tax cuts (the most selected factor), and 27% selected the tax cuts enacted by George W. Bush. 38% of Latino voters selected Trump’s tax cuts, 29% selected Ukraine aid, and 21% selected Bush’s tax cuts. 

Among voters earning less than $75,000, 31% selected Ukraine aid, 30% selected Trump’s tax cuts; 18% selected George W. Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan—a slightly higher rate than voters overall. This is consistent with prior surveys and suggests that lower-earning voters, who are more likely to experience economic hardship, are more likely to associate foreign policy with economic pressures. 

Voters Prioritize Protecting Social Security and Medicare Over Reducing the Deficit and the National Debt

We asked voters which policy priorities were most important to them, allowing them to select up to two. While 46% of voters overall selected lowering the federal deficit and reducing the national debt, 58% chose protecting Social Security and Medicare. These ranked well above other options such as keeping taxes low (31%), ensuring low unemployment (17%), and protecting defense spending (14%). While voters prioritize cutting the deficit, they prioritize protecting Social Security and Medicare more.

Voters Want Pharma, the Wealthy, and Corporations to Bear the Cost ofDeficit Reduction

When it comes to who should bear the most cost of reducing the deficit, voters overall are focused on pharmaceutical companies (80%), the wealthy (79%), corporations (76%), and insurance companies (73%). Voters overall believe that the middle class, retirees, the poor, and people with disabilities should bear the least cost. 

The idea that pharmaceutical companies should bear more cost for deficit reduction has strong bipartisan support, with 80% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans. The same can be said for making the wealthy bear more cost, with 86% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans. Notably, more independents said the wealthy (77%) should bear more cost than said pharmaceutical companies (74%). 

79% of both voters earning less than $75,000 and voters earning more than $75,000 said the wealthy should bear more cost for deficit reduction, suggesting that even voters who make more than the median income believe there is a large population of people even wealthier than they are. 

Voters Are Split on Who They Trust to Reduce the Deficit, but They Trust Biden More to Protect Social Security and Medicare 

When asked whether they trusted Biden or Trump more to reduce the deficit, 51% of voters overall said Biden and 49% said Trump. (Independents were more skeptical of Biden, with 42%.) However, Biden is more trusted to protect Social Security and Medicare when reducing the deficit (54% Biden; 46% Trump, 49% Biden among independents.) By pairing his commitment to protecting Medicare and Social Security with his record on reducing the deficit, Biden can strengthen his hand when it comes to the messaging war on the deficit. 

Voters earning less than $75,000 were the most likely to trust Biden more than Trump on ensuring that Social Security and Medicare are protected when reducing the deficit (53%); those earning more than $75,000, were most likely to trust Biden more to ensure that working people are protected when reducing the deficit (57%). 

Young men (60%) most trust Biden to ensure that deficit reduction actually occurs (60%). And young Black and Latino voters most (72%) trust Biden to protect Social Security and Medicare (72%), but trust him less when it comes to balancing cuts to spending versus tax hikes when reducing the deficit (60%). 

Where Voters See the Impacts of the Deficit and Debt: Interest Rates, Taxes, and Prices

We asked voters how much they think the federal deficit and national debt affect a range of economic issues they care about. Voters believe the impacts are seen in interest rates (58% “strongly affects”; 35% “somewhat affects”), taxes (60% “strongly affects”; 32% “somewhat effects”), healthcare costs (50% “strongly affects”; 37% “somewhat affects”), and prices on goods and services (51% “strongly affects”; 36% “somewhat affects”). Voters are less likely to believe that the deficit and debt affect entrepreneurship or their personal financial situation. 

Young Black and Latino voters disproportionately believe that the deficit and debt affect the economic situation in their area (with 93% saying it either “somewhat affects” or “strongly affects”). Voters earning under $75,000 were most concerned about the impact on interest rates and taxes, which was similar to the concerns of those earning higher incomes.

Voters’ Motivation for Deficit Reduction: Inflation, Responsible Spending, and Taxes

When we asked voters for the most compelling reasons to reduce the federal deficit (allowing them to select up to two), the top answers were “higher deficits lead to higher inflation” (33%), “families balance their budget, and the government should too” (30%), and “higher deficits will eventually lead to higher taxes” (28%). 

Both college and non-college voters were concerned about higher deficits leading to higher taxes. But while college-educated voters were most concerned about inflation (40% selecting as one of the top-two reasons to reduce the deficit), non-college voters expressed were more persuaded by the reasoning that if families have to balance their checkbooks, the government should balance its budget as well (34%). The results are similar among voters earning less than $75,000, who rated “families balance their budget, and the government should too” (31%) equally to “higher deficits lead to inflation” (31%) and slightly above “higher deficits will eventually lead to higher taxes” (27%). 

Voters Blame Tax Cuts, Military Spending, and Foreign Aid for the Federal Deficit and National Debt

When asked which broader policies are the biggest drivers of the federal deficit and national debt (allowed to select up to two), voters’ overall most frequently blamed large tax cuts (29%), military and defense spending (28%), and foreign aid (27%). Medicare and Social Security was the least frequently blamed, at 7%. 

Non-college voters see foreign aid as the largest driver (29%) of the deficit and debt, followed by tax cuts (25%), and military aid to Ukraine and Israel (25%). These results were similar to those for voters earning less than $75,000, who most often selected military and defense spending (29%), followed by tax cuts (28%) and foreign aid (26%).

Men under the age of 45 blame large tax cuts (26%), domestic social spending (26%) and military and defense spending (24%). Black and Latino voters under the age of 45 blame domestic social spending (40%), large tax cuts (20%), and military spending (20%). 

PRESS CONTACTS
Alyssa Cass
alyssa@slingshotstrat.com
347-992-5006


Evan Roth Smith
evan@slingshotstrat.com
646-240-0096

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