WASHINGTON - Americans prefer letting tax cuts expire for the country's top earners, as President Obama insists, while support has declined for cutting government services to curb budget deficits, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows. Fewer than half the Republicans polled favor continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
There's also a reluctance to trim Social Security, Medicare, or defense programs, three of the biggest drivers of federal spending, the survey released Wednesday found.
As Obama and Republicans joust over ways to avoid tumbling over the cliff when the new year begins, the poll offers scant evidence that the public is willing to sacrifice much when it comes to specific cuts in the name of budget austerity.
Social Security, Medicare, and defense account for just over half the $3.8 trillion the government is projected to spend this year. Voters typically voice support for deficit reduction but shy away from painful, detailed cuts to achieve it.
In the poll, 48 percent said tax cuts should expire in January on earnings over $250,000 but continue for lower incomes. An additional 32 percent said the tax cuts should continue for everybody, which has been the view of Republican lawmakers who say raising taxes on the wealthy would squelch their ability to create jobs. Thirteen percent said the tax cuts dating back to 2001 and 2003 should end for all.
Support for renewing the tax cuts for everyone has ebbed among Republicans since 2010, dropping from a high of 74 percent just after the GOP recaptured the House in that year's elections to 48 percent now. Among Democrats, support for allowing tax cuts for the wealthy to expire was 61 percent, down slightly from two years ago.
The new poll found that, by 46 percent to 30 percent, more favor cutting government services to raising taxes to tackle budget deficits.
When it comes to specifics, people are leery.
By 48 percent to 40 percent, more oppose proposals to gradually raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65. Only 3 in 10 support slowing the growth of annual Social Security benefits. And more people oppose than favor cutting military spending.
Just over half the poll respondents say they doubt Obama will be able to reduce budget deficits during his remaining four years in office. In his first days in office in 2009, more people than not thought he would be able to do so.