In one of the most enduring features of Washington’s two years of gridlock over fiscal issues, a flood of pre- and post-election polling shows little change in the public’s divided — and at times conflicted — attitudes about what should be done to avert the $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts set to start taking effect in January.
The surveys form a confusing backdrop that makes deal-making difficult and allows partisans on both sides to claim support for their positions.
In general, many surveys show that people think the government is too big. But they often oppose cuts to the programs that will be the largest drivers of the debt in future years.
They say they want politicians to balance the budget — but also want more done to create jobs, which might involve new spending.
“Everybody has this view that we want you to rescue us from the fiscal cliff. But when you propose specific items, they say, ‘We didn’t think you meant that,’ ” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), who hopes to vote for a big deficit-reduction deal that includes both spending cuts and tax hikes before retiring from Congress in January.
On one thing, public opinion seems pretty clear: People favor asking the wealthy to pay more in taxes, a major position staked out by President Obama and his Democratic allies.
That finding has been borne out in survey after survey and in the national exit poll taken on Election Day, which showed that 60 percent of voters favored raising taxes. Forty-seven percent of them said taxes should go up for those making at least $250,000 a year. Another 13 percent said everyone should pay more.
That finding was true across population groups: 65 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 supported raising taxes either on everyone or on the wealthy. So did 54 percent of those over age 65.
“The idea that you can do this and not raise any more revenue, that was set aside by the election. That’s a breakthrough,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, which favors a mixture of spending cuts and increased revenue to bring down the debt.
That shift helps explain a softening of the longtime Republican opposition to new tax dollars as part of a deal.
But beyond the tax issue, and the public has been far less clear on what, if anything, should happen to deal with deficits.
A poll conducted in August by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, for instance, found that 37 percent of Americans said the federal budget deficit was one of the top two economic issues that worried them the most.
But they were evenly split — 48 to 48 percent — on whether it was more important right now for the government to spend money to create jobs or for the government to avoid a big increase in the federal deficit.