The Hill Poll: Few voters know what sequester actually is

Only 36 percent of voters know what the sequester is, even as the topic dominates discussion inside the beltway, according to a new poll from The Hill.

When asked what the term refers to, and presented with a range of options, fully one-quarter of the public admitted that they did not know. Even more (38 percent) chose one of the incorrect explanations. Just over one-in-three voters correctly pegged it as a package of spending cuts that will soon take effect.


Washington has been feeding the public a steady diet of news headlines about the doom and gloom surrounding fiscal issues for some time. As policymakers lurch from one fiscal crisis to another, it perhaps should not be surprising that voters are having a hard time keeping track of it all.

Roughly one-fifth of those polled, 21 percent, had some sense the sequester was a fiscal issue, but got their crises tangled, believing that the term describes the possibility that the United States could soon exceed its debt limit.

Congress put that standoff to bed (for now) in January. Meanwhile, the real sequester is set to begin taking effect March 1.

Another eight percent of voters claimed to know about the sequester, but got their branches of government confused. Those voters believe the term refers to an upcoming ruling by the Supreme Court on the federal budget. Such a case would come as news to Chief Justice John Roberts.

In addition, The Hill Poll found that nine percent believe the term “sequester” actually describes the process by which an elected official is tossed out of office. Voters might not be happy with Washington, but the sequester won’t get rid of them any more quickly than usual.

When it comes to admitting a lack of knowledge, it turns out the gender divide is just as pronounced on fiscal policy as it is on a willingness to seek driving directions. Women were almost twice as likely as men — 32 percent to 18 percent — to admit that they didn’t know what the sequester was.

Regarding party affiliation, voters who identify as Democrats were significantly more likely to nail the sequester question.

Forty-one percent of left-leaning voters knew the right answer, compared to just 28 percent of Republicans. In fact, a plurality of GOP voters, 29 percent, believed the sequester referred to the debt limit.

Voters who did not identify with either party correctly answered the question to the tune of 40 percent.

The Hill Poll was conducted among 1,000 likely voters by Pulse Opinion Research on Feb. 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.