Few Americans know that the federal deficit, as a percentage of GDP, has been falling since 2009. But a new Pew Poll shows most Americans understand the consequences of the budget sequester … and know why they hold Republicans responsible. (More)

Pew Poll: GOP are Out-of-Touch, Too Extreme

Fox News contributor Herman Cain made a minor ripple last week when he called most Americans “dumb.” The failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate who didn’t know that China has had nuclear weapons since 1964 then continued:

[W]e have a severe ignorance problem with the people who are so mesmerized by [the president’s] popularity that they are not looking at the facts…. I still have faith, Bill, in enough people that can wake up and get out of the ignorance zone and we then be able to elect the right kind of people going forward.

“A severe ignorance problem”

Americans do have “a severe ignorance problem” on some issues. For example, only 6% know that the federal budget deficit, as a percentage of GDP, has been falling since 2009:

In fairness to Americans, that Bloomberg poll did not frame the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP:

Let’s turn to the federal budget deficit. This is the amount the government spends that is more than the amount it takes in from taxes and other revenue. Is it your sense that this year the deficit is getting bigger or getting smaller, or is it staying about the same as last year?

But even in raw spending minus revenues, not as a ratio of GDP, conservative budget cruncher Christopher Chantrill concedes that the deficit has been falling since 2011 and is projected to fall again this year. And the deficit peaked in 2009, at the depth of the Great Recession, under a budget signed by President George W. Bush.

“Only the faintest sense”

Washington Post bloggers Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake also criticized American voters yesterday:

Just one in four Americans are following very closely the debate over the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts set to kick in on Friday, according to a new Washington Post-Pew poll, numbers that serve as a reminder that although talk of the sequester is dominating the nation’s capital, it has yet to permeate the public at large.

Not only are most people paying very little attention to the sequester, they also have only the faintest sense of what it would do. Less than one in five (18 percent) in the Post-Pew poll say they understand “very well” what would happen if the sequester went into effect.

That 18% number is accurate, but if you add the 35% who think they understand the sequester’s effects “fairly well,” you get a majority of 53%. And the rest of the poll’s results show most Americans answer specific sequester questions correctly, as judged by the predictions of most business economists. Those economists could be wrong, but it seems unfair to say Americans “have only the faintest sense” when they agree with the experts.

“The Republican Party’s image has been hit hard”

So say the Pew Research Center for People and the Press in the release of their most recent survey. The survey results back up that claim:

  • 62% say Republicans are “out of touch with American people” (vs. 46% about Democrats)
  • 52% say Republicans are “too extreme” (vs. 39% about Democrats)
  • 9% say Republicans are “open to change” (vs. 59% about Democrats)
  • 45% say Republicans “look out for the country’s future” (vs. 51% about Democrats)

Yes, 63% said Republicans have “strong principles” (vs. 57% about Democrats) but when you’re “out of touch” and “too extreme” – and when you’re not “open to change” and don’t “look out for the country’s future” – then “strong principles” translates to “dogmatic ideology.”

Americans may not know budget details, but they know the sequester is a bad idea, and a plurality blame Republicans for the problem. They’ve recognized the GOP’s central failure – their dogmatic ideology – and that may be why only 22% identified as Republican in that poll. That is the lowest such number in the poll’s 25-year history.

Someone may have “a severe ignorance problem,” with only “the faintest sense” of the problems we face, but most Americans are better informed than Republicans wish. And that’s the Republicans’ biggest problem.

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Happy Wednesday!