By Bernie Becker - 02/13/12 10:00 AM EST
By a narrow margin, likely voters hope President Obama does more to create jobs than cut spending when he delivers the 2013 budget — the last of this term —Monday, according to The Hill Poll.
Forty-five percent felt the budget’s primary focus should be on job creation while 40 percent said cutting spending was the most important priority.
Independents broke slightly in favor of cutting spending (43 percent) over creating jobs (40 percent), although that spread is within the poll’s 3 percentage point error margin.
The findings come as the economy and deficits are poised to play central roles in this year’s presidential election. Top GOP candidates have constantly slammed the president for months for his performance in those areas.
Democrats have pointed to a series of developments that they say show the economy is gaining strength, including an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent that is now exactly where it was in Obama’s first full month in the Oval Office.
But Republicans say they could do a better job on creating jobs.
According to this week’s poll, likely voters do barely side with the GOP on deficits. Overall, 47 percent of voters said they have more confidence in Republicans to reduce the national debt, while 42 percent stood with Obama and the Democrats.
And in findings that underscored the political challenges of trying to hammer out a “grand bargain” on debt reduction, 65 percent of likely voters — with majorities across all demographics — said the nation’s finances could be fixed without cutting Medicare and Social Security.
Obama’s budget does include more than $350 billion worth of short-term jobs initiatives, many of which were included in the president’s jobs plan from last year, according to a preview provided by the administration. The budget also includes tax preferences for manufacturers who create jobs in the United States.
Meanwhile, the budget also takes into account already decided spending caps, and targets Medicare and other healthcare programs for more than $360 billion in savings over a decade.
And in a string of other recent polls, which were not pegged to the new budget, Americans have been much more likely to tab the economy, and not budget deficits, as the most pressing issue facing the country.
The Hill Poll, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research among 1,000 likely voters, also found that 80 percent of blacks, who have a higher unemployment rate than whites, want a budget committed to job creation. Just 4 percent of African-Americans say spending cuts are their top concern.
A strong plurality — 49 percent — of centrist voters also called for prioritizing job creation.
Raising revenues — something Democrats would like to see in any broad deficit-reduction package — came in a distant third when it came to voter preferences. Even among liberals, it captured only 29 percent support.
When voters were asked whom they trusted to deal with deficits, independents gave a slight edge to the GOP.
Voters making less than $40,000 a year, meanwhile, backed Democrats when it came to the federal debt, while more wealthy Americans sided with Republicans.
When it came to the big entitlement programs, voters were remarkably united in telling policymakers to keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare.
Between 62 percent and 70 percent of Democrats, Republicans and independents all believe the United States can get a handle on its finances without cutting the two programs.
Roughly two-thirds or more of each income group making up to $100,000 a year felt the same way, while 57 percent of those earning above that mark also believe the entitlement programs don’t need to be cut.
While Social Security is widely viewed as being on firmer financial footing than Medicare, recent bipartisan fiscal commissions have looked to both programs for deficit reduction.
Washington politicians have already seen the impact entitlement programs can have on elections, perhaps most recently when the Democrats won a House seat last year in large part by attacking House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan to overhaul Medicare.
Obama and some key congressional Republicans like Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have tried and failed to reach an agreement on grand deficit bargains in the last year or so, but key figures in both parties say they were willing to consider entitlement changes.
Ryan has also continued to look for ways to reform Medicare, most recently joined with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on a bipartisan effort.