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Poll: Americans Want Deficit Cut, Oppose Fixes

A strong majority of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, say they support a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to cut the deficit -- but they falter when asked whether they support specific fixes.

That's according to the latest poll from the Pew Research Center. The center interviewed 1,500 adults in early December. Seven in 10 say the deficit is a major problem that must be addressed right now.

"Only 23 percent say, 'Let's wait till the economy gets better,' " Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Center, tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Kohut says that in theory, Americans are open about ways to deal with the deficit, whether cutting government programs or increasing taxes. But when Pew drilled deeper, support waned.

The Bowles-Simpson deficit commission has proposed 12 ways to cut spending -- and on all but two, Americans opposed them.

The two that engendered majority support were raising the Social Security contribution cap for affluent earners and freezing the salaries of federal workers. Other ideas -- like raising the national gasoline tax -- were fiercely opposed.

"For most of these issues, people are saying, 'No, we don't want to do that,' even though they're expressing with such sincerity and intensity, 'We gotta do something about this deficit,' " Kohut says.

Partisan Differences?

When it comes to party differences, Kohut says Democrats more than Republicans favor cutting back on weapons programs and troop levels.

But overall, the partisan differences are only "a matter of degree," he says. The majority of voters from both parties do not approve of such ideas as introducing a national sales tax and eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction.

Kohut says that one of the more interesting findings was that among the people who say they are Tea Party supporters, 65 percent opposed cutting federal funding for state programs like education and roads.

"And they have been vocal opponents of federal spending," he says.

Kohut says the government is going to have to make some hard decisions.

"As a pollster, I hate to say this, but this problem is going to be solved in spite of public opinion, not in response to public opinion," Kohut says. "We've seen numbers like this before. This is going to call for sacrifice and it's going to take an awful lot for America's political leaders in the Congress and the White House to sell these painful changes."

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NPR Staff
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