News Column

Poll: Voters Want Soft Landing, Not Hard Choices

Dec. 11, 2012

Steven Thomma

crowd shot

Americans clearly want Washington to solve its looming budget crisis, and they clearly reject almost every option to do that, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

The only option that voters endorse, by a ratio of 3-to-2, is to raise taxes on the wealthy.

A majority oppose other often-discussed options, including raising taxes on everyone, cutting Medicaid or Medicare spending, raising the age for Medicare, or taking away tax deductions for charitable contributions or home mortgage interest.

The survey helps explain why it's so difficult for Washington to solve a problem everyone sees and everyone wants fixed.

President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner met secretly Sunday but there is still no sign that they're moving toward a deal that could win support from both the Democrats who oppose any cuts in government spending or benefits and from the Republicans who oppose all tax increases.

"No one is very enamored of anything," said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the national survey of registered voted Dec. 4-6 for McClatchy Newspapers.

Voters do see the fiscal mess of expiring tax cuts and looming spending cuts as a crisis that needs to be solved.

By 78 percent to 22 percent, they say they're concerned about it, and by 75 percent to 21 percent, they say it's more important for government officials to compromise to find a solution rather than standing on principle even if it means continued gridlock.

"They think a deal needs to be struck and they think it matters," Miringoff said.

The one thing that voters support is letting the Bush tax cuts expire as scheduled on Dec. 31 - and thus raising taxes - for individual income above $200,000 and family income above $250,000.

Voters support that 57 percent to 40 percent.

Despite the solid majority in favor, the proposal backed by Obama is the most divisive, with Democrats supporting it 75 percent to 20 percent, and Republicans opposing it 68 percent to 30 percent.

If a majority of voters want to raise taxes on higher incomes, they do not want to raise taxes on everyone.

By 74 percent to 20 percent, they oppose letting the Bush tax cuts expire - and therefore raising taxes - on all income levels.

And by 50 percent to 33 percent, they oppose letting the Obama cut in the payroll tax expire as scheduled at the end of the month. The tax finances Social Security.

A plurality or majority also opposes several other high-profile options to cut government spending:

-Voters oppose, by 59 percent to 40 percent, raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. There's a gender gap on that issue, with women more opposed to raising the age, perhaps reflecting their longer life expectancy.

-Voters oppose cutting overall spending for Medicare, by 74 percent to 23 percent.

-They oppose cutting spending for Medicaid, the program for the poor, by 70 percent to 26 percent.

-They oppose reducing the federal tax deduction for home mortgage interest, by 67 percent to 29 percent.

-They oppose eliminating the tax deduction for charitable contributions, by 69 percent to 28 percent.

"None of these things are attractive to a majority," Miringoff said.

There are partisan differences.

Democrats are the most opposed to raising the age for Medicare, which could make it difficult for Obama to sell that to members of his party.

Republicans oppose every option mentioned in the survey.

"There's no clear statement of what Republican voters want to happen. There's opposition to everything," Miringoff said.

"If you're a Republican in Congress looking for what Republican voters are telling you, they're not telling you much."

Voters do signal that they will blame somebody if Washington does not solve the fiscal crisis and taxes jump or spending is slashed - but the forecast is mixed.

Overall, 47 percent of registered voters said they'd blame congressional Republicans, 36 percent said they'd blame Obama, 11 percent said they'd blame both, and 6 percent were not sure.

A graphic illustrating the poll can be found here.

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Methodology

This survey of 1,246 adults was conducted Dec. 4-6. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone. Telephone numbers were selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 census results for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. There are 1,091 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.



Source: (c)2012 McClatchy Washington Bureau Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.


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