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Why most Americans are yawning over 'sequester' – and why that matters
Only 1 in 4 Americans is following the debate over 'the sequester,' and even fewer say they understand it, a new poll shows. If the spending cuts take effect and more people pay attention, Obama's public support could slip.
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The proof is in the numbers: In the run-up to the “cliff,” 40 percent of Americans told Pew that they were following the situation “very closely," 15 percentage points fewer than today’s figure, the Post notes. And 3 in 10 said they understood the implications of going off the cliff.
Part of the issue of public attention could be that the Washington players involved in sorting this out – the White House and congressional Republicans – have not begun to negotiate yet. They are both playing a PR blame game, trying to win over public opinion before they (sooner or later) sit down and try to hash something out.
Another reason, the Post suggests, is that “without tax increases included in the sequester, most people don’t think it will really affect them.”
In the new poll, only 30 percent said “automatic federal spending cuts” would have a “major effect” on their personal finances. During the fiscal cliff drama, 43 percent said they would be affected if the nation had gone over the cliff.
In the current drama, a much larger slice of the public – 60 percent – said the March 1 cuts would have a “major effect” on the US economy. So most Americans know something big is going on, but many just aren’t quite sure what it is.
The poll also confirms previous reporting that more Americans would blame congressional Republicans (45 percent) than Obama (32 percent) if the sequester goes into effect. Still, Obama’s advantage on that question has declined in the past month, and it’s a smaller advantage than he had over the fiscal cliff.
But the biggest question for Obama is, what happens when and if the public does tune in in a big way? If the sequester starts to bite – if layoffs and furloughs begin – and the public gets nervous, will Obama still be able to deflect blame to the Republicans?
Obama’s PR strategy is working for now, “because of widespread public ignorance; people don’t watch politics closely enough,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
But if people’s attention widens, Obama’s edge could evaporate. “Their support for him is as thin as their knowledge,” Mr. Jillson says.