With time ticking down on the first session of the 112th Congress, Americans generally prefer that Congress act on priorities supported by Democratic members and the White House, but they are very pessimistic about any of these initiatives actually being realized before the end of the year, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
The public’s low expectations for Congress combined with what a large number of surveys show is a sour national mood—dissatisfied with the economy and even more so with political leaders—don’t show signs of abating, but there are ideas that curry favor with the public.
The survey tested five different policy proposals related to Americans’ economic and fiscal situation, asking respondents how important it was that Congress come to an agreement on each. Americans disagree on what is most important for Congress for the rest of the year, but they are unified in believing that Congress will not be able to agree on anything, reflecting a growing belief that Congress is incapable of acting on national priorities.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans said it was “very important” that Congress agree to new federal spending to try to create jobs—specifically, rehabilitating public schools, improving roads and public transit, and preventing layoffs of “teachers, police officers and other first responders,” according to the poll. Just 13 percent of Americans said it was “not too important” or “not at all important” that Congress reach agreement on that kind of spending.
The inclusion of “police officers” and “first responders” in the question is likely to elicit support from the poll’s respondents, compared to a question that asked only about preventing layoffs of “public employees,” for instance. But the wording of the question also tests a main Democratic argument for President Obama’s jobs legislation, and the poll shows that argument could be a persuasive one. Indeed, throughout the fall, the survey has found, to varying degrees, large public support for the president’s policy ideas.
The proposal that ranked second-highest, according to the poll, is also a prominent Democratic priority. Fifty-eight percent said it was “very important” for Congress to agree to new legislation to reduce the federal budget deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on wealthy Americans, an important aspect of the Obama administration’s plan to pay for its jobs initiatives.
Ranking third is legislation “to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages at lower rates,” with 56 percent of respondents saying that is “very important.”
A Republican-backed proposal for reducing the deficit—focusing solely on spending cuts, including cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid—is less popular. Just 40 percent said it was “very important” Congress acts on that proposal, while 34 percent said it was “not too important” or “not at all important.”
Finally, just 35 percent of Americans say it is very important for Congress to try to create jobs by cutting Social Security taxes for workers and employees, though 30 percent say that is “somewhat important.”
The Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on Nov. 3-6, surveying 1,005 adults. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points and included live telephone interviews conducted via landline and cell phones. It is the latest in a series of national surveys that will track the public’s priorities for Congress—and its assessment of Washington’s performance—during most weeks that Congress is in session through 2012.
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Respondents who said that it was “very important” for Congress to enact more than one of the proposals were then asked to choose the most important. When results of the two questions are combined, 36 percent choose new federal spending to create jobs as most important, followed by 21 percent who choose cutting the deficit by cutting spending and increasing taxes on high-income families. Just 12 percent believe cutting the deficit solely through spending cuts is most important.
Among independents, 33 percent said federal spending to create jobs was most important, while 23 percent chose closing the federal budget deficit with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases for the wealthy. Just 10 percent said the most important thing for Congress was to cut spending solely by cutting federal programs such as entitlements.
But Americans are pessimistic about their government these days—an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Sunday showed that only 20 percent of Americans were satisfied with how the federal government works—and the new Congressional Connection Poll reflects that. Asked how likely it was that Congress would accomplish each of the five proposals tested in the poll, majorities say it is either “not too likely” or “not at all likely” that Congress acts on any of them.
In fact, the proposal that more Americans think is most important—federal spending to create jobs—is the initiative they give the smallest chance of succeeding in Congress by year’s end. Only 8 percent think it’s “very likely” Congress acts to spend money to create jobs, while 19 percent say it’s “somewhat likely,” 35 percent say it’s “not too likely,” and 35 percent believe it’s “not at all likely.” Forty percent of independents think Congress is not at all likely to agree on a spending package to try to create jobs.
The proposal deemed most likely to succeed is legislation aimed at making it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages at lower rates, but the majority of Americans are pessimistic about even that succeeding: Just 12 percent say Congress is very likely to pass such legislation by the end of the year.
On the other three items—cuts to Social Security taxes and the two competing debt-reduction plans—the percentages of respondents who think it is unlikely that each passes Congress is greater than 60 percent.
This article appears in the Nov. 8, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.