Hill Poll: Voters see economy getting worse after sequester cuts

A strong plurality of voters believe economic conditions in the United States are getting worse, not better, according to a new poll for The Hill — and believe the $85 billion package of cuts known as the sequester will only make things worse.

In the first survey for The Hill conducted since the sequester kicked in a little more than a week ago, 48 percent of respondents said the country’s economy is getting worse, while just 33 percent said the economy is improving.  

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Although many analysts have warned that the automatic cuts and the consequent furloughing of thousands of workers will harm the fragile recovery, last week saw several indications that job growth is actually picking up.  

A report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the economy added 236,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent — its lowest level since President Obama took office. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones industrial average reached new, record highs four days in a row last week. 

One explanation for respondents’ pessimistic outlook despite the spate of encouraging economic news is the emphasis placed on the potentially catastrophic effects of sequestration by the administration and the news media. 

According to The Hill poll, a majority of voters, 56 percent, believe  the sequester will hurt the U.S. economy. Perhaps surprisingly, though, a strong plurality of respondents, 46 percent, said they were not expecting the sequester cuts to have a negative impact on their personal circumstances. 

Party affiliation offers a partial explanation for voters’ views on the country’s economic condition. A full 67 percent of Republicans said the economy is worsening, versus just 26 percent of Democrats. On the flip side, just 15 percent of Republicans said the economy is improving, while 56 percent of Democrats believed this to be the case. 

Notably, however, respondents who identified as “Other” tended to agree with Republicans: 22 percent of those independent voters said the economy was getting better, while 55 percent said it was getting worse. 

But since sequestration became reality, critics of the administration have claimed that Obama and his team cried wolf on the impact the cuts could have on the economy. 

In the weeks before the sequester hit, Obama traversed the country, touting the message that under no circumstances should the cuts be allowed to take effect. But he and his team made several dubious claims. Obama declared that Capitol Hill janitors would receive a pay cut under sequestration, but Capitol superintendent Carlos Elias insists that is incorrect. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asserted on CBS that many teachers had received “pink slips,” but later walked back the statement.

Obama has since toned down his rhetoric, admitting that the cuts won’t be “an apocalypse.” But voters are not letting the president off easy: The Hill poll shows that a strong plurality of voters, 48 percent, said Obama and his team exaggerated the negative effects of the sequester cuts, while just 31 percent said the White House did not overplay its hand.

A plurality of the American public also believes the political news media are too soft on the administration. According to the Hill Poll, a solid 46 percent of respondents said the news media are excessively sympathetic to the president, while 28 percent said the press deliberately tries to hurt Obama and just 17 percent said they offer unbiased coverage.

Voters were mostly split along party lines on the question, but those who identified themselves as “Other” tended to agree with a strong majority of Republicans who said the news media are overly sympathetic to Obama.

These findings come as a spate of prominent national polls indicate that Obama’s post-election honeymoon may be ending. Recent surveys from Gallup, Quinnipiac and CNN show that Obama’s approval rating has dropped off slightly in the wake of the sequester. According to the Gallup poll, the president averaged 49 percent approval for the week ending March 3, down from 51 percent the prior week.

These results were based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted on March 7 by Pulse Opinion Research.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.