The Washington Post

Poll watcher: public views of the tax showdown

As the country hunkers down for a long Christmas weekend, we offer up these latest polling nuggets.

Tax fight week — The issue that kept Congress from an early Christmas break — extending the payroll tax deduction — has been settled for the next 60 days. The public was clearly behind continuing the tax break by a 58 to 35 percent margin in a recent AP poll. The extension is a win for the Obama administration and a loss for congressional Republicans who argued that the extension amounted to a “short term gimmick” that would hurt the deficit and Social Security.

This most recent tax policy skirmish may be setting up a broader fight over taxes in the coming presidential campaign. A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday reports a new majority of the public rating the federal tax system as unfair. That complaint is rooted much less in the notion that the public themselves are paying too much than the belief that the wealthy are not paying their fair share.

The political advantage on this defining Republican issue is narrowly divided in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. The public splits 46 to 41 percent between trusting President Obama and congressional Republicans. But since the fall, Obama has gained ground in public trust while Republicans have slipped a bit.

Ron Paul’s Iowa turn — With just a little over a week before the first in the nation Iowa caucus, Ron Paul (R-Texas) may be peaking at just the right time. In the latest poll from Iowa State University, Paul tops the field of Republican candidates at 28 percent, followed closely by Newt Gingrich at 25 percent and Mitt Romney at 18 percent. A slew of polls at the beginning of the month had Gingrich in the driver’s seat. Just about every candidate has held a share of the lead in Iowa polling since the summer.

Obama approval — Christmas came a little early for President Obama. On top of the payroll tax extension, three new national polls show modest bumps in his approval ratings this week. Just a touch under half of the public (49 percent) approve of Obama in the Post-ABC poll released Monday as well as a CNN poll released Tuesday. That represents a significant five-point increase from November in each poll. A CBS poll released Tuesday pegs Obama’s rating at 47 percent, up a more slight three points.

Despite the good news, his continued weak economic ratings remain a thorn in his side. A 56 percent majority disapproves of his handling of the biggest issue of the day, with 43 percent feeling that way “strongly” in the Post-ABC poll. The number of strong disapprovers is as high as the 41 percent who approve overall of his economic stewardship. And the public continues to split narrowly in placing their economic trust in Obama or the Republicans in Congress.

Angels are everywhere — Over three quarters of Americans “believe in angels” in an AP poll released Friday. That’s perhaps not surprising given the high religiosity in the country; over three quarters “identify with some form of Christian religion” in Gallup data and 55 percent say religion is “very important” in their lives. What may be more unusual in the AP poll is the fact that a majority of non-Christians believe in angels as well as more than four in 10 of those who do not attend religious services.

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Peyton M. Craighill is polling manager for the Washington Post. Peyton reports and conducts national and regional news polls for the Washington Post, with a focus on politics, elections and other social and economic issues.


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