The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115

Poll Finds AmericaSpeaks Participants Poorly Informed About the Deficit and Economy


The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) conducted a poll of people leaving the AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meeting
sessions on June 26th. The poll of 74 participants revealed a surprising
lack of knowledge among people who had just sat through a 6.5 hour-long
discussion of the budget.

For example, the vast majority had no
idea how large the budget deficit had been in the years just before the
recession sent it soaring. 84.2 percent believed that the country had
large budget deficits (greater than 2.0 percent of GDP) just prior to
the recession began at the end of 2007. Only 10.5 percent realized that
the deficit was relatively small (1.9 percent of GDP in 2006 and 1.3
percent in 2007) in the years just before the downturn. Fully 48.7
percent answered that the deficit was more than 5.0 percent in the years
just before the downturn, which would imply a very large deficit.

The participants also had little
understanding of the underlying course of the economy. Almost half (46.7
percent) answered that average wages would be the same or lower in 2040
than they are today. (The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects
that real wages will be on average 38.8 percent higher in 2040.) The
growth path of average wages would likely have been an important piece
of background information in considering some measures, such as a phased
increase in the Social Security tax.

Participants were better informed on the
problem of health care in the United States. Eighty two percent
correctly answered that health care costs much more in the United States
than in Canada and Western European.

Participants were not as well informed
about the health of the Social Security program. Only 31.1 percent
correctly answered that the program could pay benefits for more than 25
years even if no changes are made. 23 percent thought that the program
would first run short of money in less than 15 years. (The Social
Security trustees project that the program will be able to pay all
scheduled benefits for the next 27 years while CBO projects it can pay
all benefits for the next 33 years.)

This lack of knowledge on key issues
raises questions about the usefulness of the exercise. It is striking
that people would have such a long period of time to devote to learning
about and discussing the country's budget and economic problems and yet
were still seriously misinformed on several key issues. It
appears that this effort was not very successful in educating the

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

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