On 'Fiscal Cliff,' Majority Of Public Sides With Democrats, Pew Poll Says
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Late today, another face to face meeting on the budget at the White House. No progress was reported in this latest discussion between the nation's two most powerful office holders, two men who both were ratified in office by the November election.
CORNISH: President Obama was reelected and Senate Democrats held their majority. The Democrats appear to be winning the battle over higher marginal tax rates, something Republicans oppose. But Speaker John Boehner and his Republican House majority also returned to office. They want more spending cut proposals from the president. In a couple of minutes, we'll hear about the kind of cuts the White House is contemplating. First, with the election behind us and conflicting claims of mandates, we'll hear about public opinion on the edge of the fiscal cliff.
SIEGEL: Joining me is Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. Welcome back.
ANDREW KOHUT: Happy to be with you, Robert.
SIEGEL: And Andy, you have a new poll out on deficit reduction options and how the public views the parties. First, who is seen as being more serious about cutting the deficit these days?
KOHUT: Well, by a wide margin, 55 percent to 28 percent, people think that President Obama is making a serious effort, relatively few, 28 percent say Republicans are doing the same. And it's part of a pattern that we see in this poll that the Democrats are just in a much stronger position with the public. President Obama's overall approval rating has surged to 55 percent, which is a good deal higher than President Bush's was in December of 2004 after his reelection.
And the Republican Party is seen as the party that takes extreme positions and the Democrats are seen as the party that's conciliatory, wants to make a deal. The Republicans have an image problem going into these negotiations.
SIEGEL: Now, you asked the people in this poll about different proposals for closing the budget deficit. First, generally, either raising taxes or cutting programs and it looks like raising taxes on the rich win hands down.
KOHUT: Doing things to the rich...
SIEGEL: Generally, yes.
KOHUT: ...really wins in this poll and many of the others that we've seen. This poll is very similar to others that we've taken where the public says let's make some cuts, let's raise some taxes. In general, a strong mandate to get this done. But when you ask people about specific cuts, they're very wary. A majority says, no, let's not cut military spending. People are opposed to - very opposed to cuts in - 77 percent - cuts in education funding or 58 percent funding to help low income people.
SIEGEL: But cap, say, mortgage income deduction?
KOHUT: Cap mortgage income deduction and they also say no. But if you say, limit the number of deductions a taxpayer can take, more aimed at wealthy people, you get a majority saying yes. And the other part of this is, more generally, the public favors a lot of proposals that would have the rich paying more. We have 69 percent saying they favored increasing income taxes on people who earn more than $250,000.
We see 52 percent saying, let's increase rates on investment income.
SIEGEL: Andy, Pew always asks people about what stories they're aware of, what they're following closely, what they know about them. What do you find out about the fiscal cliff? What do people know and what don't they know about it?
KOHUT: Well, a fair level of - high level of knowledge about basically a technical policy question. Fifty-seven percent majority know that the fiscal cliff involves automatic spending cuts and tax increases and 70 percent know that it's going to affect all taxpayers, not just wealthy people. But just 38 percent know that if the spending cuts go into effect, the military would be most affected.
SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.
KOHUT: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.