Most Americans wrongly believe that the federal deficit has been going up
Paul Krugman EXPLAINS:
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that voters are poorly informed about the deficit. But you may be surprised by just how misinformed…
[A] 1996 survey that asked voters whether the budget deficit had increased or decreased under President Clinton. In fact, the deficit was down sharply, but a plurality of voters — and a majority of Republicans — believed that it had gone up.
I wondered on my blog what a similar survey would show today, with the deficit falling even faster than it did in the 1990s. Ask and ye shall receive: Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey — a service the company normally sells to market researchers — on the question. So we asked whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. And the results were even worse than in 1996: A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up, with more than 40 percent saying that it has gone up a lot. Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.
Am I saying that voters are stupid? Not at all. People have lives, jobs, children to raise. They’re not going to sit down with Congressional Budget Office reports. Instead, they rely on what they hear from authority figures. The problem is that much of what they hear is misleading if not outright false.
The outright falsehoods, you won’t be surprised to learn, tend to be politically motivated. In those 1996 data, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to hold false views about the deficit, and the same must surely be true today. After all, Republicans made a lot of political hay over a supposedly runaway deficit early in the Obama administration, and they have maintained the same rhetoric even as the deficit has plunged. Thus Eric Cantor, the third-ranking Republican in the House, declared on Fox News that we have a “growing deficit,” while Senator Rand Paul told Bloomberg Businessweek that we’re running “a trillion-dollar deficit every year.”
Do people like Mr. Cantor or Mr. Paul know that what they’re saying isn’t true? Do they care? Probably not.