By Sean J. Miller - 10/14/10 10:00 AM EDT
The Republican Party’s focus on reducing the federal deficit may be resonating with independent voters who could swing the midterm elections.
While Democrats and Republicans split along predictable partisan lines on the question of whether the government should prioritize spending on jobs or cutting the deficit, independents in 10 battleground congressional districts break sharply toward the GOP’s point of view.
Fifty-two percent of independent voters in The Hill’s 2010 Midterm Election poll cited debt reduction as a priority, compared with only 39 percent who said additional federal spending to create jobs is more important.
Overall, 47 percent of voters in the 10 districts think deficit-cutting should take precedence over employment spending, while 46 percent said the focus should be on the government’s red ink.
Penn said independent voters who make more than $100,000 per year are particularly focused on debt reduction.
“As a matter of policy, it’s closely divided, but as a matter of politics, that issue going into these midterms is favoring the Republicans,” Penn said.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week estimated that the federal deficit for fiscal 2010 was nearly $1.3 trillion, the second-highest yearly level since 1945.
Members of both parties agree that the debt is on an unsustainable path, though they disagree sharply on the causes and solutions. President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission is scheduled to issue recommendations after the midterm elections for reducing the growth of the deficit.
A focus on the deficit among independents is good news for the GOP, which has hammered Democrats and President Obama on “out-of-control” spending in recent months and called for new budget mechanisms to limit the growth of government.
House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Ohio) this week said that “you’ll see [the GOP] every single week move bills that will cut spending" if the party regains the majority this fall.
Democrats counter that the administration of George W. Bush is to blame for the country’s fiscal predicament and say the GOP’s legislative agenda would only make things worse.
For the past year, Democrats have touted the benefits of the stimulus package enacted in 2009, arguing it created jobs and blunted the impact of the recession. But they have struggled to make the case for the stimulus amid high unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
While the CBO estimates that the stimulus cut the increase in unemployment by between 0.7 and 1.7 percentage points, polls have found that the majority of voters do not think the stimulus helped the economy.
The idea of using government spending to create jobs, however, remains enormously popular with the Democratic base, according to The Hill’s poll. Seventy percent of Democrats polled in the 10 battleground districts said spending to stimulate the economy is more important than cutting the deficit.
But in a tight election year, the view of deficit-averse independent voters might be more important.
“Even though it was closely divided [on the deficit], that issue was cutting more for the Republicans because of a large lead in cutting the deficit [among] independents,” Penn said.