December 7, 2010

Mixed Views on Tax Cuts, Support for START and Allowing Gays to Serve Openly

Public's Views on Lame-Duck Issues

Overview

With the public giving subpar approval ratings to President Obama and continuing to express negative views of Congress and the political parties, it goes its own way on many of the remaining issues before the lame-duck Congress.

In a survey conducted before Obama and GOP leaders agreed to temporarily extend all Bush-era tax cuts, most Americans (80%) favor preserving at least some of the tax cuts. However, just a third (33%) of Americans say they favor keeping all of the expiring tax cuts; 47% favor keeping just the tax cuts for income below $250,000, while just 11% want to end all of the tax cuts.

Only about one-in-five Democrats (18%) favor keeping all of the tax cuts, compared with 33% of independents and 53% of Republicans.

On another major pending issue before Congress, most Americans who have heard at least a little about the START treaty favor its ratification by the Senate: 54% favor ratification of the arms control treaty while 24% are opposed. Democrats and independents favor the treaty’s ratification by wide margins, while Republicans are evenly split.

And by greater than two-to-one (59% to 23%), the public favors allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. These views are little changed from last month, before the Pentagon released its major study on the impact of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Those who are aware of the Pentagon’s report have about the same opinions as those who heard little about it. (See “Most Continue to Favor Gays Serving Openly in the Military,” Nov. 29.).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 1-5 among 1,500 adults, finds that 45% approve of Obama’s job performance while about as many (43%) disapprove. Obama’s job ratings have changed little since September.

Obama’s job approval ratings among Democrats remain strong (77% approve), and there is little evidence that Democrats think he is going along too much with GOP leaders in Congress. Only about quarter of Democrats (23%) say he is going along too much, while about twice as many (48%) say he is going along the right amount.

However, Obama gets mixed ratings from Democrats and Democratic leaners for how well he stands up for his party’s traditional positions on such issues as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy and representing working people. Only about half of Democrats and Democratic leaners (54%) say Obama is doing an excellent or good job of advocating the party’s traditional positions, while 43% say he is doing only fair or poor. White Democrats and Democratic leaners are divided over Obama’s performance in standing up for the party’s traditional positions in these areas (51% excellent/good vs. 47% only fair/poor). By contrast, black Democrats and leaners offer much more positive assessments (70% vs. 29%).

Overall, Democrats and Democratic leaners give Obama only slightly better marks than the party itself for advocating traditional positions. In November, 48% said the party was doing an excellent or good job while 50% said it was doing only fair or poor.

The survey finds that opinions about Congress and the political parties have changed little since before the midterm elections. Just 31% say they have a favorable opinion of Congress, which is little changed from July (33%). Similarly, while 45% say they have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, about the same percentage (41%) has a favorable opinion of the GOP.

Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing speaker of the House, remains broadly unpopular. More than half (55%) say they have an unfavorable opinion of Pelosi while only 29% say they have a favorable opinion.

The balance of opinion is more positive toward John Boehner, who is expected to succeed Pelosi as House speaker next month. About as many say they have a favorable opinion of Boehner (28%) as an unfavorable view (25%). Boehner’s favorability ratings have increased in recent months, along with his visibility. In June, nearly twice as many expressed negative as positive views of Boehner (22% vs. 12%). Notably, Boehner’s current favorability ratings are about the same as Pelosi’s in December 2006, shortly before she became speaker (32% favorable/27% unfavorable).

On foreign policy, the public has become less optimistic that the U.S. will succeed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan. Only about half (49%) say the U.S. will definitely or probably succeed while 39% say it will definitely or probably fail. In June, 59% said success in Afghanistan was at least probable.

Support for maintaining U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan also has slipped since June. Currently, 44% favor keeping troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized while 47% want to remove troops as soon as possible. In July, opinion also was divided, but in June 53% favored keeping U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan while 40% wanted them removed as soon as possible.

The recent tensions on the Korean peninsula have drawn a tempered reaction from the public. Half (50%) of those who have heard about the recent North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island say it is similar to other incidents that have happened from time to time in the past; fewer (41%) say the attack represents a major increase in hostilities.