Poll: Independents agree with Dems on Medicare and tax hikes for rich

Ezra Klein reads the new Gallup poll and discovers, strikingly, that a “plurality of Republicans want Medicare left alone.” Ezra notes that the composition of the GOP electorate may make the drive to end Medicare as we know it somewhat difficult for the party.

But here’s something else that may make this fight problematic for Republicans: The poll also finds that majorities of independents agree with the Democratic position on both Medicare and tax hikes for the rich, two central topics of this fight. And as we keep hearing, the spending battle is all about independents.

The poll finds that a total of 58 percent of independents thinks we should either make only minor changes to Medicare or do nothing at all to the program — which roughly represents the spectrum of Dem positions. Only 30 percent of indys want major changes or a total overhaul — the GOP position.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of independents think we should raise taxes on those making more than $250,000, versus only 37 percent who think we shouldn’t.

Strategists in both parties say that independents are the primary audience in the current battle over which party can claim more credibility on fiscal matters — which is why the battle is so crucial heading into 2012. And in truth, Republicans can perhaps credibly claim that indys are predisposed, in a general sense, to supporting the GOP’s emphasis on cutting spending. Today’s CNN poll, for instance, finds that 47 percent prefer the GOP’s approach versus only 39 percent who favor Obama’s.

But on the specific questions of Medicare and tax hikes on the rich, indys side with the Dem position. And this is why Dems need to make this fight about the GOP’s fiscal priorities, rather than merely about whether major changes to Medicare are needed to rein in the deficit, if they are going to gain ground with them.

As Paul Begala told me yesterday: “Democrats are at their best not simply when they say, `Republicans are mean — they want to cut Medicare.” Rather, Begala noted, the correct message is: “They want to cut Medicare because they want to give tax cuts to the rich. That’s what’s indefensible. It’s the priorities.”

If independents are predisposed to side with the GOP’s austerity frame, as it seems that they are, then perhaps the best way for Dems to undercut that built in advantage with them — given their position on Medicare and high end tax hikes — is to follow Begala’s advice.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.

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