Magical Thinking About The Federal Budget

July 19, 2012, 4:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 7/14/2012) Most Americans (51%) think the Federal budget can be balanced without raising taxes on families earning under $250,000 per year. Majorities in every income range and level of educational attainment believe that. Republicans and conservatives are especially likely to believe that.

It is a belief that dovetails nicely with strong support for raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 per year: 57% favor raising taxes on those with the highest income, again with majorities of those in higher and lower income ranges and those with higher or less high educational attainment agreeing.

In short, there is broad agreement that taxes on those with the highest income should increase and that there is no need to raise taxes on the rest—indeed, the budget could be balanced without raising taxes on those with incomes under $250,000.

Clear divisions appear, however, when the question is whether the federal budget can be balanced without touching Social Security and Medicare budgets. Overall, 57% believe we could balance the federal budget without cutting spending on those two popular programs. Among Americans age 65 and older, 72% believe Social Security and Medicare can be spared and yet the federal budget can achieve balance and 63% of women agree. Only 38% of those under age 30 believe that. High income adults and those with a college degree differ from those with lower incomes and no college experience on this question.

Among most subgroups (other than ideology and party, identities bound up with strong feelings on taxes and spending) about half want to believe the federal budget will balance without broad-based tax increases. Taxes are not as personal as Social Security benefits and Medicare coverage, perhaps, because when it comes to cutting spending on the latter, those most in need of those programs—the elderly in particular—want to believe they can be taken off the table without jeopardizing the goal of achieving a balanced budget.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here

Photo source: Press Association