Pew Research released a new analysis showing increasing concern among Americans about the federal budget deficit in the past six months. Those citing red ink as the “most important problem” reached the highest level in twenty years and nearly doubled, (from 6% in August of 2009 to 11% in January of 2010) in the last six months. According to Pew:

For the first time in many years, public concern over the budget deficit is increasing. In February, 11% cited the deficit or debt as the most important problem facing the nation. That is up from just 6% last August and the highest percentage volunteering the deficit as a top national problem in nearly two decades

The percent saying health care was the most important problem also dipped from 20% to 13% during August, 2009-January 2010 period, inconvenient timing for House Democrats putting the final push on the health care bill in Congress.

The Pew study also finds the Republican party has regained the public’s trust (at least compared to the Democrats) on the issue of handling the federal budget deficit since the last congressional election.

Opinions about which party can better handle the deficit have shifted since the previous midterm campaign in 2006. Currently, 42% say the Republican Party can do a better job of reducing the deficit, while 36% say the Democratic Party can do better.

In September 2006, a few months before the Democrats regained control of Congress, they held a 20-point lead over the GOP as the party better able to reduce the deficit (47% to 27%). The deficit was a far less important issue then than it is today; just 1% volunteered it as the most important problem facing the United States. At the time, the war in Iraq was most frequently mentioned as the top problem (at 25%).

Based on recent history, the party controlling the White House struggles on the issue who is better able the handle the deficit. As Pew notes:

There are some similarities in current public views about the deficit today with opinions in July 1994, a few months before Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. In fact, the Republican Party then held a lead on handling the deficit identical to the lead it now holds (42% to 36%).

One difference, however, between 1994 and today – more than twice as many Americans now believe the deficit is an important issue. That should provide some good news for the GOP going into the November elections, assuming the numbers hold: more people think the deficit issue is important, and the number who trust Republicans to handle it is also on the rise.

Read the full Pew Report here.

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