According to a new poll, Americans overwhelmingly support the key ideas President Obama laid out in his State of the Union address last week but also favor the GOP approach to taxes and regulation and a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S.—all while doubting the ability of the president and Congress to come to agreement.
The results appear in the latest installment of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, which surveys the American people on issues facing Congress.
By a whopping 76-percent-to-19-percent margin, Americans agreed with Obama’s proposal to “impose a minimum tax on money American companies earn from their operations abroad to discourage them from creating jobs overseas and encourage them to create jobs in the U.S.” When it comes to the so-called Buffett Rule—named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett—65 percent surveyed agreed with the proposition that Congress should “establish a new rule that anyone who earns at least $1 million annually must pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes,” while just 31 percent disagreed.
Buffett has argued that he and other investors who pay the 15 percent tax rate on their investment income should face some kind of surtax so that they don’t pay a lower effective tax rate than those, like his own secretary, who rely primarily on wages to make a living. To emphasize the point, Obama had Buffett’s secretary sit near the first lady at the State of the Union address. Another major proposal in the president’s address—cutting federal aid to colleges and universities that raise tuition too quickly or don’t succeed in graduating enough of their students—was supported by 58 percent, with 34 percent against.
Once again expressing doubt about Washington’s ability to get things done, an eye-popping 70 percent of respondents said it was not too likely or not at all likely that the president and Congress would agree on the major ideas Obama presented.
The question of energy exploration showed a public eager to garner new sources. Respondents agreed with Obama’s promise to “significantly expand production of oil and natural gas from onshore and offshore public lands,” by a margin of 70 percent to 24 percent. But those surveyed were also told, “One thing the president did not mention in his speech was his position on the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to the United States. Supporters of the pipeline say it will ease America’s dependence on Mideast oil and create jobs. Opponents fear the environmental impact of building a pipeline. What about you—do you support or oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline?” Sixty-four percent of respondents favored its construction, while only 22 percent opposed it.
This result would seem to show the political wisdom of the Republican strategy of hammering the president on Keystone, an issue that has divided Democrats, with much of organized labor backing its construction while environmental groups largely oppose it.
The Congressional Connection Poll, conducted from Jan. 26 to Jan. 29 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,008 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The president’s address was on Jan. 24.
An encouraging sign for Republicans was the philosophical thumbs-up respondents gave the GOP even as they backed Obama on specifics—offering an added boost to the principle that Americans are philosophically conservative though often operationally liberal.
For instance, respondents were asked, “What do you think would do more to encourage economic growth: proposals the president made in his State of the Union address or the Republicans’ approach of cutting taxes, spending, and regulation?” A modest but still impressive 35 percent of those surveyed said the president’s proposals would do more to help the American economy, while 42 percent preferred the GOP’s approach. A full 22 percent didn’t know, refused, or replied “neither” or “both,” offering some insight into the mixed feelings of Americans on this topic. Such a result would seem at odds with the public’s vigorous support of many of the president’s ideas.
On the subject of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a topic of conversation both in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, the poll showed a wariness of military action, though Obama has not ruled out the use of force to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail have charged that the president has not done enough to thwart Tehran’s ambitions.
Those surveyed were asked “how far do you think the United States should go to prevent” Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Some 47 percent favored economic sanctions against Iran, but only 13 percent said the U.S. should “go farther and take covert action against Iran such as sabotage and assassination of scientists working on their weapons program,” and just 17 percent would go still farther and “take military action against Iran, including bombing weapons facilities inside the country.” Were the U.S. to take military action or support an Israeli strike, those numbers would surely change. But for now, the watchword from the public seems to be caution—which, perhaps, is less than surprising as the U.S. has just ended a nearly nine-year war in Iraq and is into its second decade of the Afghan war.
This article appears in the Jan. 31, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.