With dramatic, across-the-board "sequestration" cuts slated to take effect Friday, most Americans believe the consequences of those reductions will have a "major effect" on the state of the U.S. economy, according to a new poll by Pew Research Center/Washington Post. But even as Americans overwhelming express negativity over how those cuts would impact the nation's economy, the same survey indicates a sense of public fatigue over this latest in a series of dramatic fiscal debates coming out of Washington: Only 1 in 4 Americans say they're following the story closely.
According to the poll, which surveyed 1,000 people between Feb. 21-24, 62 percent of the public believes the sequester's effect on the economy would be mostly negative, while 18 percent thought it would be mostly positive. Twenty-one percent said it would have no impact or that they didn't know. Six in 10 Americans, meanwhile, think the impact of the cuts on the economy would be "major"; 55 percent say the same of sequestration's impact on the military, and 45 percent say so of the budget deficit.
Fewer - 30 percent - say the impact on their personal finances would be "major," while 40 percent say the looming cuts would impact their finances in a minor way.
Perhaps that's part of the reason fewer people say they're paying close attention to this debate, as opposed to similar previous controversies, such as last year's "fiscal cliff" drama. In December, 40 percent of the public said they were following news of the fiscal cliff closely, and 28 percent expressed a strong sense of comprehension regarding what would happen if the nation went over the so-called cliff.
And though Americans have a similar sense of sequestration's impact on the economy - 60 percent say it would have a major effect on the U.S. economy, compared to 64 percent of those who said the same about the fiscal cliff - only 25 percent say they're paying close attention to news surrounding the debate. Eighteen percent of the public says they understand what would happen under sequestration "very well," while 35 percent understand it "fairly well," 25 percent understand it "not too well" and 21 percent "not at all well."
A matter of widespread public interest or no, the looming cuts have already taken a toll on the economy, according to a new survey by the Associated Press. Of the 37 economists surveyed for the Associated Press Economy Survey last week, 23 cited paralysis in Washington as a major factor in slowing the economy. Many also said they thought higher tax burdens had led to a temporary slowdown in consumer spending, but that the budget fights coming out of the nation's capital, if persistent, would be a significant inhibitor of economic growth.