At this difficult moment for the struggling economy and country, voters show an uncommon common sense about the choices ahead. For sure, they are concerned about deficits and what impact that will have on future job creation and key obligations, like Social Security. But they are as intent on learning politicians’ plans for investing in new industries and rebuilding the country as they are on learning their plans to reduce the deficit over the next five years. They think they know how we got into this mess — foreign wars and bailouts — and are determined that the highest income earners and big banks finance deficit reduction, not the middle class through Social Security and Medicare cuts or a national sales tax.

Voters take the long view, seeing the need for both a commitment to a 21st century economy and long-term strategies to reduce the deficit. These are complimentary, not exclusive goals. Progressives need to show they are serious about the deficits, but once they do, voters turn to them, not conservatives, for the right spending priorities and answers.

Voters are united on this key point: Social Security and Medicare are off-limits as a way to reduce the deficit. It is the threat to Social Security that leads many voters to prioritize deficit reductions. Voters instead want to see higher taxes on top income earners and big corporations.

As Social Security celebrates its 75th anniversary this week in the midst of this troubled economy, voters across the political divide want these programs defended.

At a point when deficits are very high and after almost two years of increased national spending, it is not surprising that there has been a reaction — particularly as unemployment remains high, Washington seems unreformed and bailed out Wall Street banks are paying out million dollar bonuses again.

But what is surprising is voters’ support in the short-term to fund states to prevent service cuts and lay-offs, particularly when informed of the scale of the problem. What is more surprising is that voters are thinking about the long-term response with equal enthusiasm to a larger narrative of investment and economic renewal, with an aspiration to rebuild America with a new industrial revolution.

Key Findings

Some of the key findings from the latest poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Campaign for America’s Future include:

  • Right now, a plurality of 49 percent support providing more funding to states to prevent lay-offs — jumping to 62 percent when told about the scale of public sector lay-offs due to the recession.
  • Just as many, six-in-ten, give a favorable rating to a plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country over the next five years as to a plan for dramatically reducing the deficit.
  • Voters say spending cuts for Social Security and Medicare should not be part of any deficit reduction plan by a wide 68 to 28 percent margin.
  • Progressive proposals for deficit reduction — ending tax breaks for corporations, raising taxes on Wall Street and repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 — win large majority support.
  • By 52 to 42 percent, more voters prefer investing in the future over an alternative proposition for bold cuts in spending — so long as it is combined with deficit reduction over time.
  • Six-in-ten voters respond positively to a broad narrative focused on resolving our public investment deficit in infrastructure. This message focuses on investments in “roads, sewers, schools, trains, renewable energy and other basic parts of our communities.” Such investments would “create jobs, help business compete, improve our communities and generate revenues to pay down the deficit.” This message tests better than any other progressive message on investment as well as more conservative messages focused on spending cuts.


This memo is based on a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Campaign for America’s Future with support from Political Action, AFSCME and SEIU. The poll was conducted July 26-29, 2010 among 2008 voters nationwide. All data shown reflects results from 866 likely 2010 voters (910 unweighted; margin of error of 3.2 percentage points) unless otherwise noted.

Source: Stanley B. Greenberg, Peyton M. Craighill
Clients: Democracy Corps and Campaign for America's Future