President Donald Trump’s budget plan could add more than $7 trillion to the country’s debt over the next decade. Such a plan goes against supposed Republican orthodoxy of trying to eliminate (or at least bring down) the federal budget debt and deficit. Some Republican members of Congress have voiced their frustration with raising deficits, which could derail Trump’s budget proposal.
Yet polling suggests it is unlikely that Trump will receive too much of a backlash for raising deficits, including from those who voted for him.
Reducing the budget isn’t an important issue for most Americans. According to a January Pew Research Center survey, just 48% of Americans said reducing the federal deficit should be a top priority for Trump and Congress to address this year. That ranked 14th out of 19 issues tested. Defending the country from a terrorist attack, the top priority for Americans, was listed by 73% of respondents.
Indeed, most voters didn’t think Trump would do a good job concerning the deficit before he was put into office. Only 17% thought the budget deficit would be in a lot better shape if Trump became president than it was in 2016, according to a June 2016 Pew Research Center survey. When you lump in those who thought the deficit would be in at least a little better shape than it was in 2016, the percentage who thought it would be in better shape climbs to a still relatively low 41%. That’s lower than similar figures for immigration, security from terrorism and the economy at large.
Of course, Trump is often mostly concerned about his base. Reducing deficits isn’t that important of an issue to these supporters, either; 59% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican ranked it as a top priority in Pew’s 2018 poll, which put it at 11th of 19 issues – more of a concern for Republicans than for the general population, but still not close to being a top issue. It was below not only other economic topics (strengthening the economy at 78% and improving the job situation at 66%), but also other Trump priorities such as immigration and terrorism. On both immigration and terrorism, a majority of Trump supporters in 2016 thought a Trump presidency would coincide with the country being in a lot better shape on those issues. On the deficit, a minority (37%) of Trump supporters thought the country would be in a lot better position under a Trump administration than in 2016.
Now, it would be easy to say that Republicans don’t care about the deficit because former President Barack Obama is out of the White House. You may remember that reducing the federal debt and deficit was a rallying cry of the tea party. Indeed, 81% of Republicans and Republican leaners listed reducing the deficit as a top priority in 2013.
Yet, the percentage of Republicans who thought that the deficit was a top priority fell during the latter part of the Obama administration. After reaching a high of a high of 81% in 2013, 69% of Republican and Republican leaning independents said it was top priority in 2016. Last year, when Trump took office, it was down to 63%.
The drop in importance of the budget deficit seems to be part of a longer term downward trend for all Americans caring about economic issues. As the economy improved over the course of the Obama administration, the percentage of voters who listed strengthening the economy, improving the job situation and the budget deficit as a top priority declined.
The big question is whether members of Congress, many of whom built their political careers on calls to cut spending and reduce force the country to live within its means, will care about the public’s lack of interest in deficits. It’s possible that they won’t, and Trump’s budget, which is important as a statement of his ideals and is not a spending bill, will get stopped in its tracks, replaced with ideas in the forthcoming Congressional budget. But given that they already passed a tax plan that will likely add than a trillion to deficits on its own, it seems unlikely that Republican lawmakers will care too much about raising the deficit further if it gets in the way of other priorities.