USA Today/Gallup poll: by more than 3-to-1 margin, Americans say spending causes deficits 

Despite weeks of Democratic attacks and a campaign-style national tour by President Obama, a new USA Today/Gallup poll finds that the American public is generally more inclined toward conservative arguments on the cause of and solutions to our debt problem.

By a more than three-to-one margin, Americans say that deficits are caused by too much spending rather than by not enough tax revenue, a standard conservative position. A plurality of 47 percent say that deficits should be reduced entirely or mostly by spending cuts, which is what Rep. Paul Ryan's House-passed Republican budget does, as opposed to 37 percent who want an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases, as President Obama has proposed. Just 11 percent favor deficit reduction mostly through tax hikes.

To be sure, there are aspects of the poll that show some Democratic arguments are resonating. For instance, 64 percent "fear the Republicans’ deficit plan will take away needed protections for the poor and the disadvantaged and will 'protect the rich at the expense of everyone else.'"

On the other hand, Republican arguments are also catching on too: "71%, worry that the Democrats’ plan 'won’t go far enough to fix the problem'; 62% fear they might use the deficit as an excuse to raise taxes."

At the same time, "Republicans hold a 12-percentage-point edge over Democrats as the party better able to handle the budget..."

This survey comes on the heels of a New York Times/CBS poll finding a plurality of Americans supporting the Ryan budget. While it's far too early for either side to declare victory in the early stages of a long-term budget fight, we now have multiple polls suggesting that proposing changes to entitlement programs is not as politically toxic as we have been led to believe.

After the Ryan budget was proposed, Democrats were salivating and it became conventional wisdom that these programs still enjoyed their third-rail status and thus the GOP was taking a big risk by embracing changes to them. But if the opposite is true, and Democratic scare tactics prove ineffective, it will shatter a dynamic that has existed for decades that have made these programs untouchable in Washington.

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Philip Klein

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