On September 15, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews said undecided voters don't "give a damn about the deficit" and that "[t]hey're going to vote against a guy that's going to raise taxes." Matthews then asked: "So, why do we think the undecideds are going to go for [Senator John] Kerry?"
Matthews's comments are inaccurate in two ways. First, his suggestion that undecided voters don't "give a damn about the deficit" is belied by an August 24 Pew Research Center survey, which found that 58 percent of swing voters consider the budget deficit issue to be "very important" -- more important than both abortion and gay marriage. Pew has defined swing voters as "registered voters [who are] either undecided or, having expressed a preference, [have said] there is a chance they might change their mind."
Second, Matthews's implication that undecided voters who will "vote against a guy that's going to raise taxes" are less likely to "go for Kerry" is misleading. Since Kerry has said that he will roll back tax cuts President George W. Bush granted to only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans -- those who make more than $200,000 per year -- Matthews incorrectly assumed that undecided voters fall into that category. In fact, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, swing voters are demographically less wealthy than other Americans (pdf), and only 18 percent have "household incomes of $75,000 or more, compared to 23 percent of the public." Therefore, Kerry's proposal to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans will likely affect even fewer swing voters than the American public at-large.
For the general public, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted March 19-21 found that 61 percent of Americans prefer balancing the budget to cutting taxes, while only 36 percent felt the opposite. An April poll (pdf) by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research reported that 61 percent of Americans consider the budget deficit to be a "very serious problem"; and a January poll (NationalJournal.com subscription required) by Quinnipiac University found that 88 percent thought it was either a "somewhat serious" or "very serious" problem. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the 2004 federal deficit will be $422 billion, the largest in the nation's history.
From the September 15 edition of Hardball:
MATTHEWS: Why would a person who shows so little interest in the government, at this point, not to have a favorite in this race, give a damn about the deficit? So it seems to me, the only person whose likely to switch now, is the tax-sensitive person. The person doesn't care about government, politics, or any of the stuff we talk about here; all they care about is their personal situation, which is understandable. They're going to vote against a guy that's going to raise taxes.
DAVID SHUSTER (MSNBC correspondent): Well, Chris, the Democrats --
MATTHEWS: So, why do we think the undecideds are going to go for Kerry?