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Fox News Poll: Voters say debt is immediate problem, nervous about economy

American voters are nervous about the economy and -- unlike some leaders in Washington -- they think the country’s growing debt needs to be dealt with now.

That’s according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday.

About two-thirds of voters are feeling nervous about the economy -- more than twice the number that feels confident.  And not just Republicans are nervous (although most are).  Independents are three and a half times more likely to feel nervous than confident.  Democrats are a bit more likely to feel confident.

The good news: the 65 percent who say they are nervous is down from 70 percent who felt that way in 2010.

CLICK TO READ THE POLL

Both President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner recently said the country doesn’t have an immediate debt problem.  Nearly 7 voters in 10 say they are wrong.  Conversely, 27 percent agree the debt can be handled several years down the road.  

Voters are similarly at odds with Washington on the budget deficit.  Almost all think the federal government should be required to balance its budget (85 percent) and believe reducing the budget deficit is a worthy goal “in and of itself” (85 percent).

When asked about investment spending versus spending cuts, more voters say cutting spending to reduce the deficit should be a higher priority in Washington right now than increasing spending to create jobs (54-38 percent).

And by a 12 percentage-point margin, more voters say the across-the-board sequester cuts that went into effect on March 1 are a good thing rather than a bad thing (49-37 percent).  Some 59 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of independents and 39 percent of Democrats say the cuts are a good thing.  

The president warned the automatic spending cuts would be devastating, yet 48 percent think he deliberately exaggerated to try to scare people, while 45 percent think he truly believed that.  Most Republicans (74 percent), half of independents (51 percent) and even one in five Democrats (22 percent) say Obama intentionally overstated the effects of the sequester.

Public tours of the White House are one highly visible cut as school groups and other tourists bemoan the decision to stop tours of the “People’s House.”  A 63-percent majority of voters thinks the president could reinstate the tours if he wanted, including a slim 52-percent majority of Democrats.

Government spending is voters’ biggest beef when asked about paying taxes.  The largest number says “the way government spends taxes” is the thing that bothers them the most (43 percent), beating out the feeling the system is unfair (38 percent), the complexity of the system and forms (10 percent) and the amount they have to pay (8 percent).

The ongoing budget debate has taken its toll:  47 percent of voters are confident in Obama’s ability to fix the economy -- down from 51 percent a year ago (February 2012). Over half -- 52 percent -- are not confident, including 33 percent who are “not at all” confident.

And approval of Obama’s job performance remains below 50 percent.  It’s 47 percent in the new poll, which is mostly unchanged from 46 percent three weeks ago.  Fifty-one percent approved of the job Obama was doing right before his re-election (October 2012) -- that was the only time since May 2011 that he was above 50 percent approval.

Meanwhile, half of voters say Obama owes former President George W. Bush an apology for his comment during the 2008 campaign that Bush adding $4 trillion dollars to the debt was “unpatriotic,” given that Obama has added more than $6 trillion since he took office.

Capitol Hill continues to get negative reviews.  Most voters -- 79 percent -- disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  Just 14 percent approve.  Last month 77 percent of voters disapproved.

When asked to rate the lawmakers of each party separately, the consensus is both are doing a bad job, but Democrats less so.  Twenty-nine percent of voters approve of the job Congressional Democrats are doing, while even fewer -- 23 percent -- approve of Congressional Republicans.

President Obama met with some Republican lawmakers and dined with others as part of his so-called “charm offensive” on the budget negotiations.  In yet another sign of division among the electorate, 49 percent of voters believe Obama’s efforts to reach out to Republicans is better described as a “sincere effort” to reach compromise, while 44 percent say it’s a “public-relations” effort to get good press coverage.

Likewise, 45 percent think Obama’s outreach efforts will help with the negotiations, while 49 percent disagree.

When it comes to dealing with the deficit, 44 percent agree most with President Obama, while almost as many -- 41 percent -- agree most with Republicans in Congress.  Among independents, 36 percent agree most with Obama, 30 percent with Republicans and 22 percent say “neither.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, recently repeated his call to repeal the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare as a way to help balance the budget.

The poll finds about a third of voters agree with Ryan and would like to see the law repealed entirely (30 percent).  Another 25 percent would repeal parts of the law.  On the other side, 20 percent would keep the health care law as is and 20 percent would expand it.

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 1,002 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from March 17 to March 19.  The full poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.