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NEW POLL: Addressing The Debt And Budget Deficit Tops Americans' "To Do" List For Lawmakers

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"Fully aware of the challenges ahead, Americans want their leaders to compromise on a range of issues from the deficit and stabilizing Social Security to creating jobs and improving education. Americans consider the budget deficit and national debt to be top priorities for elected officials in Washington, and we know from our research that more than half of Romney voters and nearly six-in-ten Obama voters support compromise across party lines to address our current challenges," said Joan Walker , executive vice president of corporate relations for Allstate. "The country wants the leadership in Washington to move past the partisan gridlock and come together, even if it means bending or breaking some hardline stances."

Americans say that the most important issue for policymakers should be addressing the debt and the budget deficit, but they balk at the idea of cutting the debt through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Ultimately, Americans want solutions to the country's budget woes, but they are highly protective of entitlement programs and they endorse continued public investment in infrastructure.

These results speak to the significant challenges faced by policymakers as they address not only the immediate task of avoiding the fiscal cliff, but also a long "to do" list over the next two to four years. And despite the significant challenges facing the country, the poll once again finds enduring signs of optimism.

"As from the beginning, the latest Heartland Monitor poll reveals that the strains of the Great Recession and its grueling aftermath have not cracked the public's bedrock optimism that America can meet the complex political and economic challenges confronting it," said Ronald Brownstein, editorial director of National Journal Group. "Exactly two-thirds of those polled say they believe the nation will eventually overcome these challenges—just as we've done with other major challenges throughout our history. Yet also like earlier surveys, this poll finds that optimism tempered by the fear that the hard times of recent years represent a new normal of diminished opportunity, particularly for young people, and widening insecurity."

Key findings from the 15th Allstate- National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll ( PDF) include:

1) The highest priority on America's to-do list is to address the budget deficit and national debt. However, Americans are also highly protective of Social Security and Medicare, another high priority issue that can be at odds with debt reduction efforts. 

  • A vast majority of Americans (83%) believes the budget deficit and national debt should be the top priorities for elected officials in Washington, followed by the status of Social Security and Medicare (82%) and the availability of good-paying jobs (79%).
    • Issues of lowest priority to Americans include the status of illegal immigrants (53%) and the state of the housing market (49%).
  • Consistent with previous Heartland Monitor polls, Americans are split roughly in thirds on the proper role of the federal government in the economy. 37% believe that government is not the solution, but the problem; 28% would like to see an active role for government in the economy but lack trust in their ability to do so effectively; 31% believe the government must play an active role in ensuring the economy works for "people like me."
  • When considering the most pressing economic issue facing the United States today, jobs and unemployment top the list with 30%, followed by spending (19%) and the deficit (15%) and wages not keeping up with prices (11%). 9% chose the "fiscal cliff" as the most pressing issue. Just 6% chose taxes as the most pressing issue.
    • 51% of Democrats are concerned about jobs or wages while 54% of Republicans worry more about spending or the deficit.

2) While Americans are focused on near-term solutions to address the debt and deficit, a plurality of Americans (43%) believe investments in education, training, infrastructure, and research, would do the most to help the country improve in the long-term, even if it means continued deficits and tax increases.

  • In terms of longer-term efforts to improve the country, the top priority for Americans is a broad improvement in the education system to make it more affordable, accessible and relevant to today's job market.
  • When it comes to protecting our country's global competitiveness, Americans believe there should be renewed focus on improving early education in America, ensuring that more children learn fundamentals and graduate from high school.
  • Interestingly, when given the choice between two possible approaches for governing, 55% think that President Obama should take a visionary approach, focusing on long-term goals for the future. 40% believe he should focus on a practical approach to addressing our near-term challenges.
  • Republicans are alone in favoring a near-term practical approach (52%), while majorities of Independents (52%) and Democrats (65%) prefer a more long-term visionary approach.

3) Americans are more positive about the direction of the country and about President Obama than they have been in quite some time. However, they're still conflicted about the impact of Obama's policies.

  • 41% believe the country is heading in the right direction, while 50% believe things are off on the wrong track. This is the highest right direction number since the first Heartland Monitor poll in April 2009.
    • Right Direction has now improved four surveys in a row, indicating that the positive swing may be about more than just post-election enthusiasm.
    • Democrats are the most optimistic, with 77% believing the country is headed in the right direction, up from 71% in December. Independents increased modestly from 26% to 32%, while Republicans only inched from 7% to 9%.
  • At 54%, President Obama's job approval is up five points from September (49%) and at its high point since the second Heartland Monitor in July 2009 (56%).
    • However, the President is still a very polarizing figure. 93% of Democrats approve of the job he's doing, while 87% of Republicans disapprove.  Independents are nearly evenly split (48%-46%).
    • A majority of whites (54%) disapprove of the job he's doing, while African-Americans (84%) and Hispanics (78%) give him a strong endorsement.
  • Americans are in wide agreement on their dislike of Congress. 72% disapprove of the job Congress is doing, while only one-in-five (21%) approve. This is consistent across party lines.
  • When it comes to developing solutions to the country's economic problems, the President has his biggest advantage over Republicans in Congress since September 2009. 48% trust President Obama, while 32% trust Republicans in Congress.

4) Americans are generally optimistic about the direction of the economy and their personal finances.  However, looking ahead over the next four years, there are some doubts about whether the country's fiscal challenges will improve. And, there is strong evidence to suggest that the Presidential election results have caused some to worry about their financial future.

  • 44% expect the economy to improve over the next 12 months, while 31% believe it will become worse and 22% expect it to stay about the same as it is.
    • There is undoubtedly a political aspect to this opinion. 75% of Democrats and 74% of Obama voters believe the economy will improve over the next year while 63% of Republicans and 66% of Romney voters think it will get worse.
  • Looking ahead to the end of Obama's second term, by that point, 51% believe the country's economy will improve and just 27% believe it will become worse.
  • Regarding their personal financial situation, Americans are the least confident they've been in more than a year.  This is notable because it contradicts the improving Right Direction sentiment and flies in the face of many positive economic indicators.
    • 39% believe their personal financial situation will improve over the next year, while 36% think it will stay the same and 22% think it will become worse. The 22% "worse" number is up from 13% in September and the highest we've measured since 23% in March 2011.
    • The increase in personal financial concern is being driven largely by Republicans. In September, 30% believed their finances would improve over the next year and 21% thought they would become worse. In this poll, just 15% think their finances will improve while 44% believe they will become worse. 

5)    Looking ahead to the next four years, Americans expect both sides to make compromises to get more done though they are not sold on the reality of this happening. Regardless of the actions of policymakers, they ultimately believe that the country's problems can be overcome as Americans have always done in the past.

  • Regardless of who they supported in the recent election, Americans expect both parties in Washington to work together and make compromises to get more done, even if it means bending on some policies and preferences.
    • 59% of Obama voters think that he should compromise with Republicans in Congress as opposed to remaining firm in his views.
    • 54% of Romney voters want Republicans in Congress to compromise with President Obama and Congressional Democrats.
  • Less than half (43%) think it's likely that over the next four years the President and Congress will work together more than they did in the previous four. 45% believe things will be about the same between the President and Congress and 10% think there will be less cooperation. 
  • Still, considering the challenges facing the country, including the deficit and debt, the slow recovery, high unemployment and deep political divide, a strong majority of Americans believe the country will overcome these challenges as it has in the past with other problems.
    • 67% believe that "Americans will overcome these challenges in the foreseeable future, just like we've done with other major challenges throughout our history."
    • 31% think that "Americans are facing a unique set of challenges that are so serious that we might not be able to overcome them."
    • This belief in Americans' ability to overcome challenges crosses party lines, with 54% of Republicans joining 62% of Independents and 85% of Democrats.

About Allstate The Allstate Corporation (NYSE: ALL) is the nation's largest publicly held personal lines insurer known for its "You're In Good Hands With Allstate®" slogan. Now celebrating its 80th anniversary as an insurer, Allstate is reinventing protection and retirement to help nearly 16 million households insure what they have today and better prepare for tomorrow. Consumers access Allstate insurance products (auto, home, life and retirement) and services through Allstate agencies, independent agencies, and Allstate exclusive financial representatives in the U.S. and Canada, as well as via www.allstate.com and 1-800 Allstate®. For an overview of the other Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Polls, visit http://www.allstate.com/heartland-monitor. Additional information is available at www.storiesfromtheheartland.com. About National Journal Group National Journal is Washington's premier source for 360-degree insight on politics and policy. With up-to-the-minute breaking news and analysis at NationalJournal.com, the essential intelligence of National Journal Daily, the knowledge and depth of National Journal magazine, and the comprehensive campaign coverage of National Journal Hotline, National Journal delivers everything you need to know to stay ahead of the curve in Washington.    About FTI Consulting FTI Consulting, Inc. is a global business advisory firm dedicated to helping organizations protect and enhance enterprise value in an increasingly complex legal, regulatory and economic environment. With more than 3,800 employees located in 24 countries, FTI Consulting professionals work closely with clients to anticipate, illuminate and overcome complex business challenges in areas such as investigations, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory issues, reputation management, strategic communications and restructuring. The company generated $1.56 billion in revenues during fiscal year 2011. More information can be found at  www.fticonsulting.com.

 

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