September 15, 1996 in Nation/World

Voters Pick Deficit Cut Over Tax Cut Most State Residents Don’t Believe It’s Possible To Do Both, Poll Shows

By The Spokesman-Review

Most Washington voters don’t believe the federal government can do what Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole promises - balance the budget and cut taxes.

Most Idaho voters do.

But balancing the federal budget is so important to voters in both states that they’d much rather have the next Congress and president put an end to the nation’s red ink than put some extra money in their wallets.

That’s the clear message of new scientific surveys in each state conducted by Political/Media Research, a national polling firm.

“The slogan for 1996 might be, ‘It’s the budget, stupid,”’ said Del Ali, analyst for the firm. That’s a play on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign credo, “It’s the economy, stupid.”’ The poll suggests Dole may have overestimated the public’s fervor for a tax cut like the 15 percent reduction he is proposing.

“Everyone likes lower taxes, but they are conscious that there’s a price to pay,” Ali said.

The poll of more than 800 likely Washington voters was sponsored by The Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV in Spokane and KING-TV in Seattle. A similar number of likely Idaho voters were polled for the two Spokane news organizations and KTVB in Boise.

The polls revealed some interesting contrasts between the two states. Far more Idaho voters said they are best represented by Republicans; Washington voters tended to give the federal government higher marks for the job it does.

They also revealed some strong similarities.

In both states, the vast majority of voters believe it is very important for the next Congress and president to do more to fight drug abuse and the crime that goes with it.

Asked what the government should do about drug use and crime, both states’ voters strongly favored more law enforcement and tougher penalties, instead of enhanced drug awareness and rehabilitation programs.

That’s no surprise in states that have overwhelmingly passed such get-tough-on-crime measures as “Three Strikes, You’re Out.” Voters aren’t supporting rehabilitation, but “when did they ever?” noted Ali.

Washington voters were slightly more likely to say they would give up some of their freedoms to let the federal government combat terrorism. But nearly half the voters in each state said they are not willing to sacrifice their freedoms to aid in that fight.

Views on taxes and the budget showed the widest swings in opinion between the two states.

Roughly three of every four voters surveyed in the two states said it was “very important” for the next Congress and president to balance the budget. Another 17 percent in Washington and 16 percent in Idaho said it was “somewhat important.”

One Washington voter in four said a tax cut was very important, compared to one in three in Idaho.

Dole has promised to do both. Clinton has argued that’s not possible.

Idaho voters sided with Dole. More than half - 55 percent - said “yes” when asked if they believe the next Congress and president could cut taxes and balance the budget.

In Washington, 56 percent answered “no” to the same question.

The answer to that question may reveal a basic difference in the way residents of the two states view government, Ali said. Washington is a larger, more populous state, with a larger state government, several large military bases, nuclear energy facilities and federal dams.

“In Idaho, you’re talking about a state government that’s more limited, so they’re used to that,” he said. “They believe it’s possible to do both.”

That belief helps explain why Dole was leading Clinton among Idaho voters while Clinton tops Dole in Washington.

Other explanations for the different leanings on the presidential race are highlighted in the polls.

Asked what party best represents their interests, Washington voters were equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Idaho voters, by better than 2-to-1, answered the Republican Party.

Only 3 percent of Washington voters, and 5 percent of Idaho voters, picked the Reform Party.

Ross Perot, running for president on the Reform Party ticket, is generally credited with forcing a discussion of the budget deficit into the 1992 campaign. But while voters in both states agree the issue is key, they do not support Perot this year.

“Perot’s not getting the credit on this issue. He’s not seen as a credible candidate,” Ali said.

Regardless of whether they think it’s possible to cut taxes and balance the budget, voters in both states clearly say balance the budget if a choice must be made.

Only one voter in four would opt for a tax cut in Idaho; less than one in five in Washington would make that choice.

Washington voters tend to give higher marks when asked to grade government.

Some 71 percent of Washington voters gave the federal government a passing grade of C or better. Less than 60 percent of the Idaho voters were that generous.

Washington voters were slightly more likely to say they are better off today than four years ago, the last time the nation elected a president.

They were also slightly more likely to disagree with the statement “People in the federal government don’t really care about people like me.”

Idaho voters may still be interested in the details of Dole’s plan, to find out what he plans to cut, Ali added.

“Introducing it without specifics, in this day and age when you’re dealing with a skeptical electorate … it can be a losing issue,” he said.

“People aren’t as hostile toward the government anymore,” he said. “Republicans were able to demonize it in ‘94, but now Democrats have fought back, defining it as Social Security, school lunches and Medicare.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Sounding out Washington, Idaho - Tax cuts and a balanced budget

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