Americans aren’t really sure what’s going on, but they’re pretty sure it’s a big deal.
Not only are most people paying very little attention to the sequester, they also have only the faintest sense of what it would do. Less than one in five (18 percent) in the Post-Pew poll say they understand “very well” what would happen if the sequester went into effect.
Those remarkably low numbers come despite the fact that the debate over the sequester has dominated Washington for much of the last month and, in the past week or so, President Obama has cranked up the direness of his warnings about what it could do to the economy.
The lack of interest and knowledge about the sequester stands in contrast to the level of engagement the public showed in the last crisis — the fiscal cliff. In Pew polling done in the run-up to the cliff, 40 percent of people said they were following the negotiations “very” closely, while roughly three in 10 said they had a very strong understanding of what it would mean for themselves and the country if we went off the cliff.
The Washington Post opines that the gap between the sequestration and the cliff is all in a name, which means Washington monikers have devolved to such a state that the dismal “fiscal cliff” is now deemed one of the colorful ones. If only Obama could have foreseen this when he created sequestration and called it the Fiscal Gorge of Eternal Peril, he might be in better shape.
Not that he’s not in plenty good shape. As with most things, Americans seem happy to blame half of one House of Republicans for every problem even though the man who said he’d change the very level of the seas sits atop the federal government he constantly preaches will solve your every problem. Read the rest of the Post-Pew poll for an idea of how perennially bad things are for Republicans, and how bad the media has been at actually informing anyone about the nature of the sequester. I wonder what kind of insane answers pollsters would get if they did a multiple choice on what percentage of the budget sequestration cuts represent— 15 percent? more than 30 percent? Um, at least 50 percent, right?
But the fact that a very low percentage of Americans is deeply engaged in the President’s daily Armageddon briefings improves the chances that sequestration may just become a blip on the exhausted “crisis” radar of everyday Americans. Like that one co-worker who never got into “Downton Abbey,” but knows it’s important to maintain a facade of outrage over the fate of someone named “Matthew” around the water cooler, Americans are very concerned about the sequester but how much do they really care?
What explains the difference between sequester and the cliff? At first glance, it appears to be the fact that, without tax increases included in the sequester, most people don’t think it will really affect them. Just 30 percent of those tested say sequestration would have a “major effect” on their own financial situation — a contrast to 43 percent who said the same about the fiscal cliff…
The sea of numbers above should serve as a reminder that, for most Americans, the sequester doesn’t exist. All of the talk about it coming out of Washington about whom to blame is lost on these people — another fight in the nation’s capital that they don’t believe will have any actual impact in their lives.
Of, course we should never underestimate the ability of the president to foist blame for whatever negative economic sign that appears in the future upon this minuscule decrease in the rate of federal spending after escaping blame for the past four years. If he’s able to do that, good luck ever cutting or reforming anything because the American people have just signed on to the notion that whatever size of government Obama wishes to preside over is the exact size which prevents America from just ending, basically.
Against this backdrop, both parties will be gauging the public reaction to the sequester cuts set to begin on Friday. Groups on all sides of the debate plan to highlight the effects of the cuts once they are officially in place, in an effort to sway public opinion. Obama and Democrats may be evaluating the reaction with an eye on whether a significant public outcry might work to their benefit as they press to replace some cuts with revenue from sources such as levying higher taxes on millionaires, reducing farm subsidies, and closing tax loopholes for oil and gas companies.
If the sequester is met with a shrug, Republicans could use a lack of significant public anger to press Obama and Democrats for still more concessions on the spending they see as a driver of the federal debt. Whichever way it goes, the sequester is set to start soon, and the public’s reaction to the cuts will likely set the stage for what lies ahead.
We better hope Americans don’t really care about Matthew. They’ll soon find Mary will do fine without him.
A closing thought from Ron Swanson: