By David Lauter
9:10 PM PST, February 20, 2013
WASHINGTON -- President Obama goes into a busy spring of legislative battles holding the upper hand over congressional Republicans on key issues, a newly released poll shows.
In the fight over automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to begin March 1, Obama has a dual advantage: Almost half of Americans surveyed said they would blame the GOP if the cuts took place, compared with fewer than one-third who said they would blame Obama. Moreover, an overwhelming majority, 79%, say that additional tax increases should be part of any new deficit reduction deal, compared with only 19% who side with the Republican position that the deficit should be reduced solely with spending cuts.
The figures come from a new survey by the Pew Research Center, the first done as part of a new collaboration with USA Today.
Both Democratic and Republican leaders say they oppose the automatic cuts, known as a sequester, which would indiscriminately reduce funds for a broad range of defense and domestic programs and likely would slow economic growth this year.
But Republicans say they will let the sequester take place rather than accept any new tax increases. Obama has endorsed a proposal by congressional Democrats for a package of tax increases on the wealthy and some spending cuts that would delay the sequester to give Congress more time to negotiate a long-term solution.
If Obama and Congress cannot agree by March 1, 49% in the survey said the sequester should be delayed and 40% said the automatic cuts should go ahead.
Significant majorities in both parties said it was “essential” for Congress and the president to complete a deficit reduction package this year. Among self-identified Republicans, 81% took that view, as did 65% of Democrats and 70% of independents.
The public was less united on whether other legislative goals were essential. Just over half gave that rating to immigration reform, another issue on which Obama holds a strong advantage in the poll.
Almost half of those surveyed said that the priority for immigration reform should be a combination of tougher enforcement of immigration laws and a path to citizenship for those here illegally, the position espoused by Obama and a bipartisan group of senators who have been working on immigration legislation. By contrast, 25% said they favored an enforcement-only strategy, which is preferred by a significant number of conservative Republicans in Congress. Another 25% favors only the path to citizenship, without additional border enforcement.
Over the last two years, the percentage favoring an enforcement-only approach has dropped, and Obama’s approval rating on handling immigration issues has risen. Among Latinos, Obama’s approval rating on the issue has soared, from 28% in November 2011 -- when many Latinos objected to the administration’s moves to increase deportations and its failure to produce an immigration bill -- to 63% now.
Two other issues that Obama highlighted in his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech -- gun control and climate change -- receive lower priorities from the public at large, but also show a sharp partisan divide.
Almost three-quarters of Democrats say it is essential for Congress and the president to agree on major gun legislation this year -- a slightly higher percentage than those who deem deficit reduction essential. But among Republicans, only 19% view gun legislation as essential.
Similarly, on climate change, 47% of Democrats see action as essential this year, while only 15% of Republicans agree. That issue also displays a significant generational split, with younger Americans more likely to consider action to combat climate change as a top priority.
Obama’s emphasis on the two issues reflects the priority given to them by the voters who backed him in November’s election.
The survey was conducted last Wednesday through Monday, after Obama’s State of the Union speech. It questioned 1,504 adults nationwide, by both land line and cellphone. The margin of error was 2.9 percentage points for the full sample and higher for subgroups.
Separately, a new Bloomberg poll finds that 55% of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, the strongest support that poll has found since September 2009. By contrast, 35% held a favorable view of the Republicans, the lowest level since September 2009.
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