A majority of Americans support efforts to extend the payroll-tax cut despite concerns that an extension of the short-term reduction would increase the federal budget deficit. The public, though, is more divided on other economic issues facing Congress before the end of the year, according to a new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
The poll found that voters are seeking middle ground on extending unemployment insurance for those who have lost their jobs. The country is also split on whether regulations adopted by federal agencies hinder business growth, or if restricting regulations hurts consumers and the environment.
The poll is the latest in the Congressional Connection Poll, 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.
As the Democratic-controlled Senate and the GOP-led House advance competing plans for extending the payroll-tax reduction, the new poll shows that 58 percent of Americans think Congress should extend the tax cut. Just 32 percent think they should not extend the tax cut.
Respondents were read the following arguments before being asked if Congress should extend the payroll-tax cut: “Supporters say this tax cut gives people more money to spend and helps the economy. Opponents say it increases the federal debt without doing much to help the economy.”
Support for extending the payroll-tax cut—despite concerns about the budget deficit—is broad and bipartisan. Democrats favor an extension, 68 percent to 25 percent. Half of Republicans think Congress should extend the payroll-tax reduction, while 39 percent think they should not. Among independents, 57 percent favor an extension, while a third do not.
Across other subgroups, support for an extension of the tax cut is virtually uniform. Fifty-seven percent of voters making less than $50,000 a year favor an extension, compared to 62 percent of those making $50,000 a year or more. Three in five college graduates favor extending the tax cut, compared to 55 percent of those who never attended college.
The poll did not ask about the varying proposals for extending the payroll-tax cut; the debate over those proposals and their differences has bogged down the legislation.
On other issues facing Congress this year—extending unemployment benefits and restricting the federal government’s ability to regulate businesses—consensus is more elusive.
Respondents to the poll were told that, unless Congress acts, out-of-work Americans would see the duration of their unemployment insurance reduced from 99 weeks to 26 weeks. Then they were asked whether Congress should “take action to keep unemployment benefits at 99 weeks, limit unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, or set a new limit for unemployment benefits between 26 and 99 weeks.”
A plurality—46 percent—prefer a new limit between a wide range of 26 weeks and 99 weeks, while 29 percent favor keeping the current 99-week limit, and 20 percent want benefits capped at 26 weeks. Democrats are split, with 44 percent favoring a new limit between 26 and 99 weeks and 43 percent wanting Congress to keep benefits at 99 weeks. A 51-percent majority of Republicans want Congress to set a new limit between 26 and 99 weeks, compared to 30 percent who want the limit reduced to 26 weeks. Forty-eight percent of independents want a new limit between 26 and 99 weeks, 27 percent favor extending the current 99-week law, and 21 percent support limiting benefits to 26 weeks.
The poll also asked Americans about an effort to limit federal regulations on businesses, a bill known as the REINS Act, introduced by two Kentucky Republicans: Rep. Geoff Davis and Sen. Rand Paul.
The bill “would make it more difficult for federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency and Securities and Exchange Commission, to issue new regulations,” poll respondents were told. Interviewers added that this legislation “calls for more cost-benefit analysis about the impact of new regulations and additional study of their impact on small businesses.”
Respondents were divided on what worried them more about this effort. Forty-five percent said they were more worried “that regulatory officials appointed by President Obama will go too far in imposing unnecessary regulations on business and hurt the economy,” while 41 percent said they were more worried “that Congress will go too far in reducing the authority of regulatory agencies and weaken oversight of business on issues like environmental protection and financial fraud.” Two percent volunteered that neither was a concern, and 12 percent were undecided.
Republicans are overwhelmingly more concerned about a possible chilling effect on business, with 74 percent saying that was their greater worry. Two-thirds of Democrats are more concerned about weakening the oversight powers of these federal agencies.
Independents are slightly more worried that regulatory officials will go too far and hurt the economy. Forty-nine percent of independents say that is a greater concern, while just 34 percent are worried about weakened regulatory oversight. The poll suggests that, in tough economic times, the GOP arguments that regulations have a chilling effect are resonating.
The REINS Act is expected to pass the House easily, but it is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,008 adults by landline and cell phone from Dec. 1-4. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups.
This article appears in the Dec. 6, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.