Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2010
About seven in 10 Americans back the tax deal negotiated last week by President Obama and congressional Republicans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The high bipartisan support for the package masks more tepid public approval for some of the main components of the agreement that comes before a key Senate vote Monday afternoon.
A slender 11 percent of those polled back all four of the deal's primary tax provisions: an across-the-board extension of Bush-era tax cuts, additional jobless benefits, a payroll tax holiday and a $5 million threshold for inheritance taxes. Just 38 percent support even two of the components.
But put all four items together, and 69 percent of all Americans support the package. Large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike favor the agreement, which has drawn stiff opposition from some Democrats in the House. In the poll, 69 percent of liberal Democrats support the agreement, which Obama has called a framework for legislation.
Even when primary objections to the pact are mentioned - that it would add about $900 billion to the federal budget deficit and that it extends tax breaks to the wealthy - 62 percent of all those polled support the package.
Broad public support for the agreement comes despite only modest expectations that the tax cuts will help lift the struggling national economy. About twice as many see the deal as making things better than see it hurting the economy over the next year or two (36 vs. 17 percent), but just 9 percent think the package will improve things a "great deal." Nearly half say the tax cuts won't make much of a difference or express no opinion on the question.
Overall, expectations for the deal are similar to assessments of the effect of the 2009 stimulus. But unlike public opinion on that Democratic initiative, both support for and skepticism about the new tax agreement cross party lines.
In previous polling, many Democrats, but few Republicans, said the stimulus package helped the economy. By contrast, 39 percent of Democrats, 36 percent of independents and 34 percent of Republicans say they think the tax agreement will help the nation's economy.
Broad bipartisan support for the tax deal also stands in contrast to the strong partisan disagreements that marked the battle over the health care overhaul.
In the current tax package, majorities of Democrats and Republicans support a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. Support for the tax exemption on inheritances to $5 million also tops 50 percent among Republicans (60 percent) and Democrats (52 percent).
Majorities across party lines also oppose the provision on cutting the payroll tax for Social Security by two percentage points for most workers. The reluctance to back this specific tax cut may stem in part from a general resistance to any changes to the popular social insurance safety net.
Some 54 percent of all Americans support an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers, including wealthy people and the middle class. It's this provision that generates the biggest partisan gap: 85 percent of Republicans say these tax cuts should be continued for all taxpayers; 38 percent of Democrats (31 percent of liberal Democrats) agree. Among independents, 49 percent back the full extension; 46 percent oppose it.
The mixed support for individual elements of the overall tax agreement adds up to somewhat soft support for package. A large majority backs the idea, but "strong support" registers at 20 percent, "somewhat support" at 49 percent.
The telephone poll was conducted Dec. 9 to 12 among 1,001 randomly selected adults. Results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Polling consultant Meredith Chaiken contributed to this report.
By Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer