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The sequester lives, and it’s the Republicans’ fault, President Barack Obama told Americans on Friday.
As blunt, broad spending cuts started their slow crawl across the federal government on March 1, 2013, the president said he just needed Republicans in Congress to "catch up to their own party and the country."
That means an approach to deficit reduction that "asks something from everybody," he said, including raising tax revenue.
Saying he believes Congress "can and must" replace the sequester’s cuts with "a more balanced approach," he added:
"I don't think that's too much to ask. I don't think that is partisan. It's the kind of approach that I've proposed for two years. That's what I ran on last year. The majority of the American people agree with me and this approach, including, by the way, a majority of Republicans."
Is that true? Do most Americans, including most Republicans, prefer to raise taxes and cut spending to address the deficit?
Polls supporting the president
We searched for public opinion polls to see if they supported the president’s declaration.
The best evidence in Obama’s favor was a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and USA Today as the sequester loomed. Researchers talked with 1,504 adults across the country from Feb. 13-18, 2013.
The survey found broad concern over the federal budget deficit — and support for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
To reduce the budget deficit, 19 percent said the president and Congress should focus only on spending cuts. Just 3 percent preferred only tax increases.
A strong majority — 76 percent — sought a combination of both.
What about "a majority of Republicans"?
Here was the breakdown of support for a mixed approach by party:
Democrats: 90 percent
Republicans: 56 percent
Independents: 76 percent
So, yes, the poll shows that a majority of Republicans support both spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit.
A November 2012 poll from CNN/ORC International of 1,023 adults was in line with the Pew Center’s results. It asked, "If you had to choose, would you rather see Congress and President Obama agree to a budget plan that …"
Only included cuts in government spending: 29 percent
Or a budget plan that includes a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on higher-income Americans: 67 percent
The party breakdown for the "combination" response?
Democrats: 87 percent
Republicans: 52 percent
Independents: 60 percent
Meanwhile, a Bloomberg News poll conducted Feb. 15-18 showed majority support for curbing the budget deficit "through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on companies and high earners, as the White House has proposed, rather than focusing exclusively on spending reductions, as Republicans assert," according to Bloomberg’s article. (We didn’t see the actual poll.)
We also came across this Fox News poll, conducted by Republican and Democratic pollsters of 1,010 registered voters on Feb. 25-27.
It asked, "In January, the president and Congress reached a budget agreement that raised tax rates on wealthy Americans and postponed making cuts to government spending. This time,
would you prefer the budget deal reduces the deficit by focusing …"
Only on cutting government spending: 33 percent
Mostly on cutting spending, and a small number of tax increases: 19 percent
On an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases: 36 percent
Only on adding further tax increases: 7 percent
Don't know: 5 percent
So, a majority of respondents, 55 percent, supported a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. The results we saw didn’t break out responses by party.
Polls that don’t address or undermine Obama’s claim
We asked House Speaker John Boehner’s office if there were other polls we should consider.
Press secretary Brendan Buck pointed us to an NBC/WSJ poll of 1,000 adults conducted Feb. 21-24.
They were asked whether they supported the sequester’s automatic cuts, more cuts, or fewer cuts. A majority, 53 percent, either favored more cuts or the sequester’s automatic cuts, which Buck interpreted as support for Republicans’ cuts-only approach.
But the poll didn’t ask respondents whether they wanted to see revenue as part of a deficit reduction plan. It focused on cuts only.
Meanwhile, 50 percent agreed with the statement: "These spending cuts are too severe and will hurt our economy. The President and Congress need to find a way to reduce our deficit by working together to avoid this from happening."
While 46 percent agreed with: "Washington has become too partisan and the President and Congress cannot reach an agreement on reducing our deficit. Allowing these spending cuts to go into place may not be perfect, but it is time for dramatic measures to reduce the deficit.**
The poll results don’t directly support Obama’s claim. But they don’t undercut it, either.
Buck also mentioned a survey from Rasmussen Reports, a survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted on Feb. 24-25.
It asked, "Should the long-term federal budget deficit be reduced by cutting spending, by raising taxes, or combination of tax hikes and spending cuts?"
Rasmussen’s respondents found cutting spending the most attractive approach, with 45 percent support. Just 6 percent, it said, supported raising taxes alone.
So, a plurality supported the Republican approach of cutting spending only, while a minority supported Obama’s solution.
It’s worth noting that some polling experts, such as the New York Times’ Nate Silver, have raised issues with Rasmussen’s methodology. Its "robopoll" strategy, which uses a digitally recorded voice to conduct interviews, showed a statistical bias toward Republicans in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Meanwhile, Pew’s work in 2012 was more favorable toward Obama than the pollster consensus (though Silver hasn’t raised issues with Pew, which he says he respects).
Buck also mentioned a survey from Republican polling firm Winston Group, but beyond the poll’s conservative phrasing, it had the same issue as the NBC/WSJ poll — it didn’t offer respondents the choice of a mixed approach to replacing the sequester. It asked registered voters only whether they preferred Republican spending cuts or Democratic revenue increases or sequester delay. They favored Republican spending cuts over Democratic revenue increases by 52 percent to 40 percent.
One other way the president doesn’t enjoy majority support: Just a plurality of Americans, rather than a majority, wanted Congress to pass legislation to avoid the sequester, according to Gallup.
Obama said of a balanced approach to deficit reduction that "the majority of the American people agree with me and this approach, including, by the way, a majority of Republicans." We found two polls that supported his statement in its entirety, several polls that supported at least the first half, and polls from Rasmussen and Republican pollster Winston Group presented more of a mixed picture. The majority of the polls we found support the president. We rate the president’s statement Mostly True.
Email interview with Brendan Buck, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, March 1, 2013
Email interview with Matt Lehrich, White House, March 1, 2013
Speaker of the House blog, "American People to the President on His Sequester: Cut More, Not Less," March 1, 2013
Pew Research Center for People and the Press, "If No Deal is Struck, Four-in-Ten Say Let the Sequester Happen," Feb. 21, 2013
Bloomberg, "Americans Back Spending-Cut Delay Amid Budget-Deal Push," Feb. 21, 2013
Fox News, "Fox News Poll: President Obama, transparency and the sequester," Feb. 28, 2013
NBC News, "NBC/WSJ poll: Public wary about sequester cuts, but Obama in stronger political position than GOP," Feb. 26, 2013
CNN/ORC poll, Nov. 16-18, 2012
Gallup, "By 45% to 37%, Americans Want to Avert Sequestration," Feb. 27, 2013
Rasmussen Reports, "45% Think Deficit Should Be Reduced By Spending Cuts Alone," Feb. 26, 2013
FiveThirtyEight, "Which Polls Fared Best (and Worst) in the 2012 Presidential Race," Nov. 10, 2012
FiveThirtyEight, "Robopolls’ Significantly More Favorable to Republicans Than Traditional Surveys," Oct. 28, 2010
FiveThirtyEight, "Aug. 2: When a Poll That Seems Like News Isn’t," Aug. 2, 2012
RealClearPolitics, "The Politics of Sequestration: More Nuanced Than You Think," March 1, 2013
PolitiFact, "PolitiFact's guide to sequestration," Feb. 22, 2013
PolitiFact, "Obama says he will cut deficits by $4 trillion," Oct. 4, 2012
Washington Post's WonkBlog, "There are now four big plans to stop the sequester," Feb. 14, 2013
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