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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The GOP Budget Trap in Numbers

There’s obviously been a ton of polling on federal deficits and budget cuts, showing variable levels of concern (often depending on the wording) about deficits and debts, but nothing like majority support for any but a very few specific cuts (typically, “foreign aid” is at or near the top of disposable spending categories in the eyes of the public).
But a new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey shows sophisticated breakouts of support-levels for budget cuts that nicely illustrate the trap congressional GOPers are struggling to avoid.
There’s a sizable gap between the deficit-hawkery levels of rank-and-file Republicans (and Tea Party supporters) and the public at large:

More than seven in 10 tea party backers feared GOP lawmakers would not go far enough in cutting spending. But at the same time, more than half of all Americans feared Republicans would go too far.
Among those most fearing spending cuts were younger voters, independents, seniors and suburban women–groups that include many swing voters in national elections, who potentially could turn against the GOP.

So Republican pols are truly caught between a core constituency demanding more budget cuts than they are comfortable with enacting, and a broader electorate that fears they are already going too far.
Comments Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrat Peter Hart:

“It may be hard to understand why someone would try to jump off a cliff” to solve the debt crisis, Mr. McInturff said of his fellow Republicans, “unless you understand that they are being chased by a tiger, and that tiger is the tea party.”

And unfortunately, once poll respondents were asked to focus on options for reducing the deficit, they reacted in a way that should frighten Republicans nearly as much as the “tiger” at their backs:

The most popular: placing a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than $1 million per year (81 percent said that was acceptable), eliminating spending on earmarks (78 percent), eliminating funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says aren’t necessary (76 percent) and eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries (74 percent).
The least popular: cutting funding for Medicaid, the federal government health-care program for the poor (32 percent said that was acceptable); cutting funding for Medicare, the federal government health-care program for seniors (23 percent); cutting funding for K-12 education (22 percent); and cutting funding for Social Security (22 percent).

Among the popular ideas, one (killing earmarks) has already been “banked” in order to fund the two-week continuing resolution signed by the President. Another (cutting weapons system not wanted by the Pentagon) has some bipartisan support in Congress, though there will probably be areas (e.g., missile defense) where Republicans will want to force spending on DoD. The other two are violently opposed by Republicans.
The least popular ideas are supported pretty much only by Republicans, and to a considerable extent force unsavory choices (i.e., if the GOP decides against unilateral attacks on “entitlements,” cut in programs like education will have to be even larger).
All of those pundits who think congressional Republicans have Obama and Democrats on the run as the budget showdown grows nearer should take a good look at this poll.

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