Politics

Americans Support Two Major Elements of Tax Compromise

by Lydia Saad

Liberal vs. conservative/moderate Democrats disagree on extending tax cuts for all

PRINCETON, NJ -- Two major elements included in the tax agreement reached Monday between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress meet with broad public support. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) favor extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for all Americans for two years, and an identical number support extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Support for Extending Tax Cuts and Unemployment Benefits, Among National Adults and by Party, December 2010

According to Gallup polling conducted Dec. 3-6, the slight majority of Democrats, as well as most independents and Republicans, would vote for a two-year extension of the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003.

This differs slightly from a November Gallup poll giving Americans three options for extending the Bush tax cuts. That poll found 40% in favor of extending the tax cuts for all Americans, 44% in favor of extending them with limits on tax breaks for the wealthy, and 13% in favor of letting the tax breaks expire altogether. Nevertheless, the results of the new question suggest that, while the compromise position on taxes may not be their ideal, most Americans would support congressional passage of it.

In terms of extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, more rank-and-file Republicans say they would vote against this than for it; however, the vast majority of independents and Democrats are in favor.

Opposition Limited to the Extremes

Looking more specifically at the different ideological wings of each party, only liberal Democrats oppose extending the tax breaks for everyone: 39% are in favor, while 55% are opposed. Among the other groups, support ranges from 64% of conservative/moderate Democrats to 87% of conservative Republicans.

Similarly, conservative Republicans are the only political/ideological group opposing the extension of unemployment benefits. The majority of moderate/liberal Republicans are in favor, as are most Democrats, regardless of ideology.

Support for Extending Tax Cuts and Unemployment Benefits, by Party and Ideology, December 2010

Maintaining the income tax cuts for two more years and extending unemployment benefits are two of eight items included in a Gallup referendum-style question giving Americans the opportunity to say how they would vote on various proposals under review by the lame-duck Congress. Gallup has used this "for" or "against" format periodically since the early 1970s to measure public opinion on the issues of the day.

Both issues are among the most popular measures tested in the new poll, tied with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military. The only item garnering more support is strengthening food safety regulations. Gallup will explore public views on these and the other referenda items in greater depth in future articles.

Gallup 2010 Issues Referenda

Implications

The White House reportedly agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans partly to help lure independents back to the Democrats' fold by 2012. That reasoning seems sound. By yielding on the tax cuts, Obama extracted Republican leaders' support for extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed -- and large majorities of independents support both measures. Additionally, according to a post-election Gallup poll, by 49% to 24%, independents are more inclined to favor partisan compromise over principled standoffs in Congress. Thus, rather than get mired in a partisan squabble that could result in higher taxes for the middle class come January, Obama can present himself as the architect of a new era of compromise.

While Republicans generally don't agree with extending unemployment benefits, they broadly support extending the tax cuts, and at least a slim majority of Democrats support both measures. In fact, the only groups not supporting both proposals are liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. The more moderate members of both parties join independents in generally supporting the proposals. Thus, if Congress ultimately passes the elements announced Monday, the compromise would likely satisfy more Americans than it dissatisfies.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 3-6, 2010, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,003 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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