MELISSA BLOCK, host:
By and large, Americans agree that the deficit is a major problem. And a strong majority, both Republicans and Democrats, say they support a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to deal with the deficit, that is until you start asking about specific spending cuts or tax increases, and suddenly all that support falters.
These are the findings from the latest poll from the Pew Research Center. And Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Center, is with us to explain. Welcome back, Andy.
Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Center): Happy to be here, Melissa.
BLOCK: Let's start with the main point of consensus: recognizing the deficit as an immediate problem across the board. Republicans, Democrats, independents, they say yup, it is.
Mr. KOHUT: They all saw we've got to address it now. Seventy percent overall with little variation in parties say we have to do it now. Only 23 percent say: Well, let's wait till the economy gets better.
And they're very open about ways - in theory very open about ways to deal with the deficit: 65 percent say it's a combination of cuts in government and increase in taxes, not just cutting government.
BLOCK: That's in theory, but then there's practice, and when you start breaking it down to what should we do about it, they fall apart.
Mr. KOHUT: Well, you know, the first question that we asked along those lines is: Have you heard about the commission and what they're suggesting?
BLOCK: The deficit commission.
Mr. KOHUT: The deficit commission. And first reaction was negative: 48 percent, we disapprove; 30 percent we approve. And these are people who went on to say they hadn't heard a lot about it, but what they heard, they didn't like.
Then we took people through 12 specific proposals. Only two of the proposals endangered majority support. Fifty-nine percent favored the idea of freezing the wages of federal workers. Sixty-four percent favored the idea of raising the Social Security contributions cap for affluent earners.
But after that, it was mostly major no-nos and moderate no-nos. The major no-nos, 72 percent dislike the idea of taxing employees' provided health care insurance. Seventy-four percent oppose raising the national gasoline tax. And the list goes on and on.
The one issue that we got a divided reaction to was reducing the Social Security benefits for high-income people: 47 percent favor it, 48 percent oppose. But for most of these issues, people are saying no, we don't want to do that, even though they're expressing with such sincerity and intensity: we've got to do something about this deficit.
BLOCK: Where, Andy, did you find the biggest partisan gaps?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, the Democrats are more in favor than the Republicans of cutting back on weapons programs. Fifty-three percent say I like that idea. Only 23 percent of the Republicans like that idea. And they were also more in favor of cutting troops.
But even though there were partisan differences on these specific proposals, they were, for the most part, matters of degree. I mean, there's a common consensus on I don't like that.
BLOCK: Where do you think this leave us in the end, Andy? You know, this big number of people say the deficit's a huge problem and then when it comes down to the nitty-gritty having a real problem coming up with anything that would solve the deficit problem.
Mr. KOHUT: You know, as a pollster, I hate to say this, but this problem is going to be solved in spite of public opinion, not in response to public opinion when it comes down to specifics. We've seen numbers like this before. This is going to call for sacrifice, and it's going to take an awful lot for America's political leaders in the Congress and in the White House to sell these painful changes.
BLOCK: Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, thanks for coming in.
Mr. KOHUT: You're quite welcome.
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