February 21, 2011
Polling Evangelicals: Fix Deficit with Spending Cuts, Tax Increases
On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution containing deep cuts for education, environment, and health care programs. All told, the resolution cuts $60 billion dollars from this year's budget. The resolution faces an uncertain future, as it must pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Obama vowed to veto the House version of the bill.
For many evangelical activists, the deficit is a top moral concern. But how important is the deficit to everyday evangelicals in the pews?
The Pew Research Center for People and the Press provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from its December and February polls on the deficit and government spending. These polls show that while unemployment is a more pressing economic issue for evangelicals, they agree that the federal government should fix the deficit immediately and are willing to raise taxes (coupled with spending cuts) to do so.
When asked if the federal government should spend more money to create jobs or reduce the budget, nearly two-thirds of evangelicals said that the deficit was a more urgent problem (64 percent). Other Americans were more evenly split, with only 46 percent favoring deficit reduction.
This emphasis on the deficit likely reflects a distrust of government spending as a solution to unemployment. In a December survey, Pew found that 39 percent of evangelicals thought the job situation was the nation's most pressing economic problem. Only 22 percent named the deficit. This is similar to the views of other Americans, 45 percent of whom chose jobs and 19 percent chose the deficit.
In that same poll, however, 80 percent of evangelicals said the deficit was an issue that needs to be addressed now rather than waiting until after the economy improved. Other Americans were more willing to wait. Just over two-thirds of other Americans voiced a need to address the deficit immediately (68 percent).
Few Americans said that the deficit can be fixed by simply raising taxes. The vast majority favored some reductions in spending. The real question is whether the government should only cut spending or if it should be coupled with tax increases. A majority of both evangelicals (60 percent) and other Americans (66 percent) say that the federal government needs both tax increases and spending reductions.
Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Chuck Colson is one evangelical leader who finds taxes a necessary solution. Colson told BreakPoint listeners in December that neither Republicans nor Democrats were willing to cut the deficit. He pointed to the deal between President Obama and Republicans that included both an extension of tax cuts and increased spending, a deal he called “madness.”
“This country cannot continue this reckless, grossly immoral course of deeper and deeper deficits. We will go bankrupt. And then watch it all break loose in the markets, in the banks, and eventually in the streets,” Colson said. “Look, I don’t want to pay higher taxes any more than anybody else does. But I would certainly rather pay higher taxes than betray my kids and grandkids.”
Evangelicals are more likely to oppose tax increases than are other Americans. One-quarter of evangelicals favor spending reductions and oppose tax increases to pay for the deficit; only 14 percent of other Americans hold this position.
Editor's Note: Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around 18 percent of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. Evangelicals are compared to all other Americans, including those who are not white.