March 22, 1995 in Nation/World

Republicans Win Support, But Not For Tax Cuts

Ronald Brownstein Los Angeles Times
 

With the symbolic 100-day milestone approaching, Americans give qualified approval to the new Republican Congress, although they remain dubious of GOP plans for sweeping tax cuts, a Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

The survey added a seconding note to calls from Senate Republicans and many rank-and-file House members for the House GOP leadership to scale back its ambitious package of individual and corporate tax breaks.

Fully 59 percent of those polled - including nearly half of Republicans and conservatives - said it is “unrealistic” to propose tax cuts now; only 35 percent backed the idea. Asked the most important priority for government, 40 percent cited reducing the deficit, 26 percent cited increasing investment in domestic programs and just 20 percent said cutting taxes.

In the survey, a plurality of Americans said that they back the GOP legislative agenda and a majority said that the Republicans are working to fulfill their campaign promises rather than backing away from them. But less than one-third said they believe the Republican agenda will improve conditions in the country and nearly three in five say that it is unrealistic to consider cutting federal taxes now.

Similarly ambivalent notes resounded through the survey. On many important questions - from the priorities for economic policy to the ability of President Clinton and congressional Republicans to solve the nation’s problems - neither side musters a majority of public support. And despite the GOP success at moving its agenda rapidly through the House, the poll finds just 13 percent of those surveyed expressing a high level of confidence in Congress, down slightly since January.

Indeed, the poll portrays a public withholding judgment on the major actors in the furious political debate engulfing Washington and only intermittently engaged by the debate itself: A clear majority of those surveyed cannot name a single agenda item on which congressional Republicans have made progress.

The poll finds Clinton adrift near the midpoint of public opinion, with Americans narrowly approving of his job performance, but a majority saying that they now plan to vote against him next year. In a trial heat for 1996, Clinton trails Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who has emerged as a clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, according to the poll.

Though the results of presidential primaries can upend national polls almost overnight, Dole heads toward the April 10 formal announcement of his candidacy in an enviable position: in the survey, Republican partisans prefer Dole by a margin of three to one over his nearest rival, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm.

The Times Poll, supervised by John Brennan, surveyed 1,285 adults from March 15 through March 19. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Like other recent national polls, this survey shows a political landscape in which the sharpening policy dispute between the parties is consolidating partisan allegiance at both ends of the ideological spectrum. On many issues, the poll reveals a public sharply polarized along partisan lines, with independents holding the balance and in most instances tilting guardedly toward the GOP.

The pattern reappears most force fully in a hypothetical general election match-up between Clinton and Dole. Overall, Dole leads among registered voters by 52 percent to 44 percent. Clinton draws support from 80 percent of Democrats, while a dramatic 96 percent of Republicans said that they back Dole. Independents lean to the Republican by 52 percent to 42 percent.

Not all Democrats are satisfied with Clinton. In the survey, about one-third of probable Democratic primary voters said that the party should look for another nominee in 1996.

As House Republicans move toward completion of their ambitious 100-day agenda, the poll shows support for their efforts, though doubts about specific priorities, and restrained enthusiasm that the program will significantly change American life for the better.

Just as a plurality expressed approval for the congressional leadership’s agenda, 45 percent said that they believe Republicans in Congress have the best ideas for solving the nation’s problems and only 34 percent name Clinton. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed (including onethird of Democrats and a majority of independents) credited the Republicans with “trying hard to fulfill the promises they made during the 1994 campaign,” while just 35 percent said that they are going back on those promises.

One Democratic argument ap pears to be reaching the public: 53 percent of those polled said that Republicans care most about the rich, with just 14 percent saying that their top priority is the middle class and 27 percent saying that the GOP worries equally about all income groups.

As with much else in the poll, the public sides decisively with neither side when asked opinions about key elements of the GOP agenda.

In the larger sense, it is unclear how deep an impression any of these arguments in Washington are leaving on the public. Nothing that has happened in Washington this year has improved the country’s mood. In the survey, just 30 percent said that the country is moving in the right direction. Twice as many said it is on the wrong track - a relative degree of gloom that has actually deepened substantially since January.

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