Poll: Americans Prefer Obama’s Tax Cut Plan

Steven Shepard
National Journal

Americans think it is more important to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year, as President Obama proposed on Monday, than extending them for all taxpayers, as advocated by congressional Republicans and presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, according to a new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll. The public also favors Democrats’ plan to create jobs through additional spending on infrastructure and retaining public-sector employees over the Republican plan to cut taxes for businesses.

Presented with a list of five legislative priorities, Americans continue to say that “new federal spending to try to create jobs by rehabilitating public schools, improving roads and mass transit, and preventing layoffs of teachers, police officers, and other first responders”—the spending proposal offered by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to boost employment and the overall economy—is the most important thing Congress can do before the end of year. But the GOP proposals, such as business-tax cuts and repealing the 2010 health care law, also score fairly well with the public; roughly half say it is “very important” for Congress to reach agreement on those initiatives before the end of 2012.

The Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,004 adults from July 5-8. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys tracking the public’s priorities for Congress—and its assessment of Washington’s performance—during most weeks that Congress is in session during this election year.

Seventy percent of respondents say it is “very important” for Congress to come to an agreement on spending for infrastructure and retaining teachers and first responders, and a combined 87 percent say it is “very” or “somewhat” important. That Democratic proposal scores higher than the GOP plan—passing “a plan to create jobs mostly through tax cuts to small and large businesses”—with 52 percent saying the Republican initiative is “very important.” But the difference is largely one of intensity: 29 percent say that the GOP plan is “somewhat important,” meaning that the combined percentage of Americans who ascribe some importance to the Republican proposal is comparable to results for the Democratic bill.

With the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, 60 percent think it is “very important” to extend the cuts for families making less than $250,000, while just 40 percent think it is “very important” to extend those rates for all taxpayers. When the percentages are combined for those who said each was very or somewhat important, 68 percent place importance on extending the cuts for all, compared with 82 percent for just those who make less than $250,000 a year.

Obama on Monday said that extending the cuts for those who earn less than $250,000 achieved the best combination of stimulus and debt reduction among available options. “I’m not proposing anything radical here,” Obama said at a White House event. “I just believe that anybody making over $250,000 a year should go back to the income-tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have said that failing to extend the cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year was tantamount to a tax hike on small businesses, and would stunt economic growth.

Last month, a Congressional Connection Poll found respondents more willing to extend the cuts for those earning less than $250,000 a year than for all Americans.

As the House prepares to vote to do so, nearly half of Americans, 49 percent, think it is “very important” for Congress to reach agreement on repealing or doing away with “the president’s health care plan,” including 38 percent of Democrats, while an additional 14 percent say it is “somewhat important.” A combined 32 percent think it is “not too important” or “not at all important” for Congress to reach agreement on repeal of the health care law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court last month.

A majority of Americans in a previous Congressional Connection Poll, conducted in late May and early June, wanted the Court to strike down the controversial individual mandate at the heart of the law. The Court found that mandate to be constitutional.

Congress resumes work this week near the depths of its general unpopularity, the poll also shows. A majority of voters think it is time to give a new person a chance as their representative in Congress, while only 35 percent think that their representative deserves to be reelected. That is slightly worse than the last time that question was posed by the Congressional Connection Poll, in late April, when 38 percent of voters thought their member deserved reelection. Now, Democrats (43 percent) and Republicans (38 percent) are almost equally likely to say they favor reelecting their member of Congress, but only 26 percent of independents agree.

Just 28 percent of voters would like to see most members reelected, regardless of their opinion of their representative, slightly greater than a Pew Research Center survey from last December, which pegged that figure at 20 percent. Sixty-one percent of voters, including fully two-thirds of independents, would not like to see most current representatives reelected. But the latest poll result is still worse than historical trends from Pew, which showed support for reelecting most members in the wave elections of 2006 and 2010 in the low- to mid-30s.

The poll included 787 registered voters, and results among this and other subgroups carry slightly higher margins of error.