December 7, 2010

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

Section 1: Issues Before the Lame-Duck Congress

Weeks before tax cuts passed during George W. Bush’s first term are set to expire, most of the public has heard either a lot (38%) or a little (43%) about the debate in Washington over how to handle these cuts. Much of this debate focuses on whether to extend all of the tax cuts or whether to extend the tax cuts only for annual income below a certain threshold – either $250,000 or $1,000,000.

When the threshold is set at $250,000, nearly half (47%) say they would like to see the cuts extended for income below $250,000 but allow the tax cuts to expire on income above that. A third (33%) would like to see all of the tax cuts remain in place, while just 11% say that all of the tax cuts should be allowed to sunset.

Public support for keeping some of the tax cuts while ending others declines when the threshold is set at $1 million; just 36% say they support this option. Support for maintaining all of the tax cuts (34%) or ending all of them (14%) remains nearly the same.

There continue to be substantial partisan differences in views about these tax cuts. About six-in-ten Democrats (61%) say they would like the tax cuts to remain in place for income below $250,000 but allow other cuts to expire, 18% would like all of the cuts to remain in place and 13% would like them all to expire.

By contrast, a majority of Republicans (53%) favor keeping all of the tax cuts in place; 28% of Republicans support maintaining them only for income below $250,000, and just 9% say they think all the cuts should be allowed to expire.

Mirroring overall public opinion, a plurality of independents (48%) want the cuts to be extended only on income below $250,000, a third (33%) want all the cuts to be extended, while 11% want all the cuts to end. The partisan patterns are similar when asked about the cuts above
and below $1,000,000, although independent opinion is more divided; 34% favor keeping all of the cuts while 37% favor keeping them just for income below $1,000,000.

Support for Gays in Military Unchanged

Public support for allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military has been largely unchanged following the release of a Defense Department study on the potential impact of gays serving openly. Currently, 59% favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while 23% oppose this.

While support for allowing gays to serve openly has remained steady over the last several years, there has been some decline in opposition. Today, just 23% oppose allowing gays to serve openly, down four points from last month. And just 8% now say they strongly oppose allowing gays to serve openly; while that is little changed from November or February, it is the first time strong opposition has fallen below 10%.

Democrats overwhelmingly favor allowing gays to serve openly (74% favor, 13% oppose), while independents also favor this by nearly three-to-one (63% favor, 22% oppose). Republicans, by comparison, are divided (39% favor, 42% oppose). Partisan and demographic differences are little changed over the last month.

START Ratification Favored

The START treaty has not registered widely with the public: Just 16% say they have heard a lot about the treaty signed by Obama and the Russian president to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in both countries. Another 52% say they have heard a little about the treaty while nearly a third (31%) heard nothing at all.

Among those who have heard at least a little about START, many more favor than oppose its ratification by the Senate (54% to 24%). Fully 66% of Democrats and 60% of independents want the Senate to ratify START. Republicans are divided – as many oppose (37%) as favor (37%) the treaty’s ratification. The small proportion who have heard a lot about the treaty are somewhat more likely than those who have heard a little to favor its ratification by the Senate (62% vs. 51%).