Voters Favor Obama Ideas But Keystone, Too

Warren Buffet is interviewed in the White House Briefing Room of the White House following his meeting with President Barack Obama, Monday, July 18, 2011. Obama meet with members of the the Giving Pledge including co-founder Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, and others to receive and update on the program.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)  
National Journal
Matthew Cooper
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Matthew Cooper
Jan. 30, 2012, 4:30 p.m.

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.  

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