This week's newsletter from Anzalone Liszt Research explores how Americans feel about balancing the budget.

Americans oppose big Medicare cuts, but are divided on defense cuts
Make no mistake, Americans are eager to see the deficit addressed in a serious way. In April, a Washington Post/Pew poll found that 81% of Americans felt that the federal budget deficit was a problem that needs to be addressed now, with just 14% saying that it should be addressed when the economy improves.

But this desire for action does not mean that Americans welcome just any deficit reduction proposal. Recent polls are consistent in terms of the type of deficit reduction proposals Americans strongly support (raising taxes for the wealthy and big corporations), strongly oppose (major changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) and are ambivalent about (cuts to defense spending).

An August NBC/WSJ poll found that 78% of Americans felt that cuts to Medicare were an unacceptable way of reducing the deficit, with 51% saying they were totally unacceptable.  A recent CNN/ORC poll also found strong opposition to the super committee proposing such cuts, with 64% saying that the committee's proposal should not include major changes to Medicare or Social Security.

The public is not completely shut off to some minor changes to Medicare (though what constitutes a minor change is obviously highly subjective). While just 13% believe a proposal should include "major spending reductions" to Medicare, an additional 35% say they would support minor reductions. That leaves a narrow majority of 51% opposed to any reductions at all.  Meanwhile, opposition to Medicaid cuts is only slightly lower, with 46% against cuts of any kind to that program. The public is less keen on cuts to Social Security, with 58% opposing cuts of any kind to the program.

Americans are more divided when it comes to the role that defense spending cuts should play in any deficit reduction plan.  According to the CNN/ORC survey, the public opposes major cuts in military spending by a 6-point margin (47% should include cuts / 53% should not). The findings in the NBC/WSJ poll are nearly identical, with 46% saying significant reductions in defense spending are acceptable, while 51% say they are not.  Among Republicans, 78% oppose major cuts in military funding. Among independents, the percentage opposed to such cuts falls to 49%.

There is an openness to minor cuts here as well, as the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that just 28% of Americans are against any reductions in military spending, while over two-thirds (67%), are open to at least minor ones.  This openness to minor cuts extends to conservatives, as strong majorities of both Republicans (60%) and Tea Partiers (57%) are open to at least limited reductions defense spending.

Strong support for raising taxes for the wealthy
As we've seen repeatedly in public polling over the past year, no potential source for reducing the deficit is more popular than new tax revenue from wealthy Americans and large businesses.  The CNN/ORC poll found that 63% of Americans (and 62% of independents) believe that higher taxes for businesses and wealthy Americans should be part of the super committee's proposal.  And while Republican Congressman John Fleming might think otherwise, families earning $250,000 a year or more clearly fall into the public's definition of "wealthy," as 60% of respondents in the NBC/WSJ poll felt that raising this group's taxes was acceptable to reduce the deficit.

According to the Kaiser poll, less than one in five Americans agree that higher taxes for wealthy Americans (19%) or closing tax loopholes for large businesses (10%) should not be part of a deficit reduction plan. Meanwhile, the most recent NBC/WSJ poll finds that 60% of the public believes that it is unacceptable to reduce the deficit through spending cuts alone.

Republicans point to the fact that 57% of Americans say that major cuts in domestic spending should be part of the super committee's proposal.  On other aspects of the budget fight - from higher taxes for the wealthy, to closing corporate tax loopholes, to major changes to Medicare and Medicaid - the public overall and independents are not in agreement with that viewpoint.


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