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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls -- Week Ending February 23, 2013

All eyes are on Congress and the president as the countdown to the March 1 spending cuts continues.

Scott Rasmussen says in his latest weekly newspaper column that “a panic is bubbling to the surface in Washington, D.C.” as this sequester deadline approaches. The process “will be further proof to voters that their elected officials are incapable of doing their jobs. So incapable, in fact, that automatic, arbitrary and thoughtless budget-cutting is a better option than anything Congress and the president could come up with,” he writes. “But the real reason for the panic in Washington is that the American people ultimately may applaud the spending cuts. That might mark the beginning of the end for politics as usual.”

Scott will discuss the sequester cuts and other key issues with Senator Rand Paul on this weekend’s edition of What America Thinks.  The nationally syndicated television show airs weekly on 61 stations. Find a station near you.

Paul is seen favorably by 35% of voters.  A plurality (42%) of voters now has a favorable opinion of Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union. Both have been mentioned as possible GOP presidential contenders in 2016. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker wouldn’t rule out a GOP presidential bid in 2016 in his appearance last weekend on What America Thinks.

Former Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, commented on Scott’s show that the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal was a “disaster” for the Democrats. Dean added that “somebody has to tell the middle class that either your taxes are going to go up or your programs are going to get cut or else we're going to go into financial oblivion, and nobody really wants to tell them that.”

Dean, like most Democratic leaders, wants more revenue for the government. However, following the tax hikes in the fiscal cliff deal and the payroll tax increase that took effect on January 1, there is little support for higher taxes. A plurality of Americans opposes reducing tax deductions for those who earn at least $150,000 a year, but they’re closely divided over whether the wealthy or the middle class benefit more from those deductions.  Most continue to agree, however, on the need for a simpler federal income tax code. 

Speaking of deductions, Americans believe income should be the deciding factor in how much someone pays in taxes, not whether they are married or have children.

Americans overwhelmingly oppose the idea of taxing the health insurance benefits provided by their employers but are open to taxing such benefits for workers who earn more than $150,000 a year.

Despite a deeply held belief in Washington that Congress reflects the views of the people, most Americans don’t share that sentiment. Just 11% believe Congress is a good reflection of the views of the American people. 

The president continues to earn the approval of most voters when it comes to the job he is doing, and most also support his proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour.  A narrow plurality believes that hiking the minimum wage will be good for the economy. However, most voters think the minimum wage should be left up to states anyway. Additionally, 61% think state governments should offer minimum wage jobs instead of welfare payments to the long-term unemployed.

The president also has proposed increased spending on education, but most voters don’t think that’s the answer. Even though taxpayers now spend nearly $10,000 per pupil on average in the public schools, just 18% of voters believe most high school graduates have the skills needed for college. Only 21% think most high school graduates have the skills needed to enter the work force.

Part of the problem may be the textbooks. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of voters believe that most school textbooks are more interested in presenting information in a politically correct manner than in accuracy.

Obama also called for legislative action on global warming, but 66% think creating jobs is a more important goal than trying to stop global warming at this time.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress recently that the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than ever and that immigration reform legislation should focus its attention elsewhere. But most voters think more border security is needed, and 48% believe offering citizenship to illegal immigrants already here will just encourage more to come

Sixty-seven percent (67%) think legal immigration is good for America but don’t think it’s offensive to regard those who come here illegally as “illegal" immigrants as some politicians and activists have charged.

Some worry that illegal immigrants have been able to vote, while others complain that legitimate voters are being denied their voting rights. A bipartisan presidential commission is now considering ways to streamline the election process while maintaining security. Most Americans like the idea of voting by mail but not same-day registration. 

Democrats lead again this week on the Generic Congressional Ballot.

Forty-four percent (44%) of voters now rate the president’s handling of issues related to health care as good or excellent. Nearly as many (42%) consider his performance in this area to be poor. Voter support for creating a health care exchange in their state as part of the president’s health care law is unchanged, but low voter awareness suggests it is not a top-of-mind issue for most at this time. 

Support for Senator Charles “Chuck” Hagel, Obama’s nominee to be secretary of Defense, is down slightly, although most voters still feel he is likely to be confirmed for the high-level Cabinet position. 

Official Washington has been sounding dire warnings about the impact of the sequester spending cuts on the economy, but here’s where things stand right now: Just one-in-four consumers and investors say their personal finances are getting better these days.

Confidence in the short-term housing market is now at its highest level in several years. Thirty-six percent (36%) of U.S. homeowners think the value of their home will go up over the next year. Fifty-one percent (51%) believe that the value of their home will go up over the next five years.

But most Americans continue to see the current housing situation as a buyer’s market. Just 22% think, generally speaking, that this is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house.

Forty-two percent (42%) Americans now say they owe less money than they did 12 months ago. That's the highest level of solvency in regular surveys since April 2009.

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In other surveys last week:

-- Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Likely U.S. Voters say the country is heading in the right direction

-- Parents, teachers, friends, and many others influence the life of a child, but Americans overwhelmingly believe it’s parents who make the biggest impact.

-- When given a choice between several levels of community beyond their own family, most Americans choose either their church or their country

-- Although most Americans don’t consider Presidents’ Day one of the nation’s top holidays, they still look favorably on those it celebrates, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

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Wall Street Journal profile called Scott Rasmussen "America's Insurgent Pollster." The Washington Post described him as "a driving force in American politics."  If you'd like Scott to speak at your conference or event, contact Premiere Speakers Bureau.

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