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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls -- For The Week Ending November 17, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

You can bet President Obama and Congress don’t want to leave Americans huge tax hikes and deep across-the-board spending cuts as a late holiday present, so official Washington is scrambling to avoid the end-of-the-year “fiscal cliff.” Voters think that’s a good idea.

Sixty percent (60%) of voters believe Congress and the president should work to extend the tax cuts which include reduced Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes that are set to expire on December 31.  A plurality (48%) also thinks the two sides should stop the pending automatic spending cuts.

Given the partisan bickering, however, just a bare majority (51%) of voters thinks a deal to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” is likely to emerge.  Only 15% feel a deal is Very Likely.

One of the major partisan sticking points are the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President Bush which are set to expire at year’s end. Republicans want to extend them permanently for all taxpayers. Democrats want to extend them temporarily and only for those who make less than $250,000 a year. Most voters (53%) favor continuing the so-called Bush tax cuts but not for “the wealthy.”

When we put a specific dollar figure in the question, 57% favor raising taxes on those who earn more than $250,000 a year.  At the same time, just 19% think it is possible to balance the federal budget primarily by raising taxes on these higher-income earners.

Voters for years have favored cuts in government spending, and by a 42% to 31% margin, they think defense spending and entitlement programs need to go on the chopping block to reduce the record federal deficit.  But they’re not overly confident that the president and Congress will reach a long-term agreement to make those cuts.

The “fiscal cliff” will be one of the hot topics, along with the state of the economy, on this weekend’s edition of What America Thinks, Scott Rasmussen’s new television program.  Scott will be sitting down with Matt McCall, economist and founder of Penn Financial Group, and John Tabacco, CEO/Founder of LocateStock, to discuss among other things the unemployment rate, consumer trends and earnings expectations as we wrap up 2012. The show airs this Saturday and Sunday on more than 60 stations nationwide.

Speaking of Congress, just 10% of voters rate its performance as good or excellent, while 61% say the legislators are doing a poor job.  Still, in Election 2012, the GOP maintained their majority in the House, while the Democrats gained two seats in the Senate.

Democrats lead Republicans by three points on the Generic Congressional Ballot.  Republicans have been consistently ahead on the weekly ballot since June 2009, but Democrats have now led three times in the past six weeks.

Even though the same people are in charge following the election, voters are now more concerned than they were for most of the year that the government won’t do enough to help fix the struggling economy.  But even a plurality (46%) of those who are more worried the government won’t do enough to fix the economy believes it should cut spending.

One area that looks ripe for cutting is the war on drugs. Just seven percent (7%) of Americans think the United States is winning that war, but only 23% feel the United States needs to spend more to fight it.

Voters in Colorado and Washington on Election Day approved recreational marijuana use in their states, putting them on a collision course with federal law. Nationwide, Americans are evenly divided over whether pot should be legalized.

“Americans favor a new approach to the war on drugs,” Scott Rasmussen contends in his latest weekly newspaper column.  “Six out of 10 Americans believe the federal government should get out of the way and let individual states decide how they want to address the issue within their own borders. … They'd like to see the states experiment with a variety of approaches and monitor the results before deciding upon the next step.”

Things continue to go the president’s way in several of our regular national surveys. Obama’s job approval rating has bounced to his best ratings in three-and-a-half years.

Forty-two percent (42%) of voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, down just a point from the week before which marked the highest level of optimism during the Obama presidency.  The latest finding is up 24 points from a year ago.

The number of working Americans who classify themselves as poor (9%) has fallen to its lowest level in more than three years.  The number of Americans who say they are middle class (65%) is also the highest measured in 2012.

Americans remain evenly divided, though, about the nation’s future: 45% feel America’s best days are in the past, but nearly as many (43%) think they are in the future.

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes, which measure daily confidence among both groups, also continues to stumble along.  Thirty-two percent (32%) of consumers say the U.S. economy is getting better these days, while 52% say it's getting worse.  Among investors, 35% say economic conditions in the country are improving, but 54% disagree.

As the nation’s economic troubles continue, the debate over developing new energy resources versus protecting the environment is sure to heat up. Scott Rasmussen explains in a new radio update. 

Most Americans remain concerned about inflation but are beginning to express a little more trust in the Federal Reserve Board’s ability to control it.  However, confidence in the stability of the U.S. banking system has fallen back below 50%.

One potential stumbling block for the president is the expanding Petraeus scandal and growing questions about what the administration knew about the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and when they knew it. Most voters (52%) agree CIA Director David Petraeus should have resigned after it was discovered he was having an extramarital affair, but for now they also feel there’s little likelihood the affair exposed any of the nation’s top secrets.

How did you do in this week’s Rasmussen Challenge? Check the leaderboard.

In other surveys last week:

-- There is still a week to go before the Black Friday shopping rush, but for seven percent (7%) of Americans, their holiday shopping’s already done.

-- Most voters still view the auto industry bailouts positively until they learn that the federal government will lose money because of them.

-- Most voters continue to favor an immigration policy that welcomes newcomers to this country as long as they pose no threat to public safety.

-- More voters than ever (54%) now identify themselves as pro-choice when it comes to abortion, and 62% rate the issue as important to how they vote.

-- Two of the most influential members of the president’s Cabinet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, will reportedly be leaving their posts soon.  Clinton continues to be the most popular Cabinet member, while Geithner remains one of the least-liked.

-- Thirty percent (30%) of voters rate the job the U.S. Supreme Court is doing as good or excellent, while 24% consider the high court’s performance poor.  Those attitudes have changed little over the past couple years.

-- A sizable number (46%) of Americans still don't believe drunk driving laws are tough enough, but adults in this country are narrowly divided over how sentences for those crimes should be determined.

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