HomeFiscal Future Daily: To D.C. Insiders, Budget Now on a Par With Economy as Most Important Problem

Fiscal Future Daily: To D.C. Insiders, Budget Now on a Par With Economy as Most Important Problem

AUTHOR: FiscalFutureDaily, Site Administrator
May 12, 2011

Whatever you think about Washington’s budget debate, there’s no question the fiscal focus inside the Beltway has shifted – and this new survey from Public Agenda shows how.

The latest edition of “The Buck Stops Where?“, a survey by Public Agenda of Beltway influencers about the national debt, finds that concern about the nation’s finances has more than doubled among “movers and shakers.” In fact with this group it’s on a par with the economy as “the most important problem” facing the country.

Other surveys show concern about the budget rising among the general public, although the economy remains the public’s primary worry. A Gallup poll in April showed 17 percent citing the budget as the most important problem facing the nation, the highest level since 1996. But that is still behind the economy overall (26 percent) and unemployment (19 percent).

The more than 300 influencers surveyed break down into two groups:

  • “Leaders” included high-level federal government staffers in the executive and legislative branches, as well as media, nonprofit and interest group executives who are key players in crafting and implementing policies.
  • “Opinion elites” included politically active citizens in the Washington metro area. This group may not be formally part of the government, but they are educated, affluent and regularly participate in civic activism. They’re not decision makers, but they do provide the context in which decision makers operate.

The other major trend is that leaders, the actual decision-makers in the nation’s capital, have grown more optimistic about the chances for solving the problem – but the opinion elites are as skeptical as they ever were.

For example, leaders are notably more likely to report that “elected officials are often factoring in the national debt in their decisions”: 41 percent say this, a 19-point increase from a year ago. Also, while a majority of leaders still believe that “pragmatic solutions to the national debt will be impossible to achieve due to partisan politics,” that number has fallen from 78 percent a year ago to 66 percent now. For elites, the number really hasn’t changed at all (83 percent now vs. 85 percent last year). Yet both groups do believe solutions exist. Over the course of the survey, the number of both leaders and elites who say there are “at least several practical approaches” to solving the nation’s fiscal problems has held fairly stable, at about 8 in 10.

You can read full details about the survey, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, at www.publicagenda.org/pages/the-buck-stops-where.

There will also be a session on the results on May 26 at the National Academy of Public Administration in Washington — stay tuned for more details.

Join the discussion! Your voice is important. You can comment here at www.OurFiscalFuture.org, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And to learn more about the numbers that set the stage for some of our choices, check out our slideshow, iPhone and Android apps, and Our Fiscal Future’s Visual Budget Tool.

Fiscal Future Daily is produced by Public Agenda for Choosing Our Fiscal Future, in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration and with support by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The editor in chief is Scott Bittle, with contributors Francie Grace, David White, Jen Vento, Hart Hooton and Tom Watson.

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