WaPo study: Plurality says that Obama's policies have made economy better

The most depressing data point from a depressing data set.

A new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare “very important.” They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care…

Nearly six in 10 say they want their congressional representatives to fight for additional government spending in their districts to spur job creation; fewer (39 percent) want their member of Congress to cut spending, even if that means not as many local jobs. This is a turnabout from September 1994, when 53 percent said they wanted their representative to battle against spending and 42 percent were on the other side.

Despite evident public dissatisfaction with the growth of the federal deficit, 50 percent of those polled say they would prefer more government spending to try to boost the economy. Forty-six percent say avoiding an increase in the deficit should take precedence…

Despite the common view that the 2009 stimulus package has largely been a waste of money, Obama fares far better than President George W. Bush did in terms of public perceptions of how they managed the economy. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the Bush administration’s actions made the economy worse. Assessments tilt more on the work the Obama administration has done to deal with the country’s economic challenges: Forty percent say those efforts have made things better and 30 percent say they are worse, with the rest undecided.

We already knew that, sort of. Remember last week’s Marist poll showing that 51 percent think Obama’s approach will eventually solve the country’s problems? Americans are pretty patient with their presidents during their first term. At Ricochet, James Poulos writes, “The realization needs to set in that Obamanomics can’t solve the jobs problem,” but I figure he’s got another 12 months’ grace period before any hard judgments start to form. And of course, if he forges a compromise with the new Republican Congress to enact some new form of stimulus via tax cuts — see, e.g., payroll — then he’ll get the credit for the economic rebound. Which is to say, the realization that Obamanomics is a failure is by no means inevitable.

As for the grim numbers on entitlements, we knew that too. Remember the Times poll of tea partiers six months ago that showed 62 percent think Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost? Some of that may be due to popular ignorance about what the bulk of federal spending goes to: WaPo notes that many people believe trimming waste from the budget will balance it when of course it’s nondiscretionary spending that’s a much vaster problem. Poulos has a theory that voters do understand that entitlements are the heavy burden but that they’re simple not ready for the pain of giving them up when there’s so much pain economically already. Could be, but he’s more optimistic than I am that an economic recovery that lessens the pain will make them more receptive to serious fiscal schemes like Paul Ryan’s. I think more pain — some sort of new economic crisis that forces an austerity mindset — might be the only thing that does it. Hope he’s right and I’m wrong, sincerely. Exit quotation: “What I want to do is jump in the pool and tell my colleagues, ‘Hey, the water’s not so bad, come on, jump in and swim in this pool.’… So far, I’m kind of doing laps on my own.”