Far more popular is taxing people perceived as being most able to pay: Seventy-two percent support achieving debt-reduction by raising taxes on people with household incomes more than $250,000 a year. That again counters the GOP position, and works for Obama, who last week ruled out another extension of tax cuts for better-off Americans.
Ninety-one percent of Democrats favor higher taxes on better-off Americans -- but so do 68 percent of independents, the crucial political center, and, in fact, 54 percent of Republicans. Support for raising taxes on the wealthy falls below a majority in only a few groups, e.g., people who call themselves "very" conservative, conservative Republicans and strong supporters of the Tea Party political movement.
Indeed Obama now holds a slight 47-42 percent advantage over the Republicans in Congress in trust to handle taxes, after an essentially even split in December and January. And he leads by a wider margin, 51-39 percent, in terms of "protecting the middle class."
In all this, there may be some room for the "shared sacrifice" mooted in Washington. If a package "significantly" reduced the federal debt and included a "small" tax increase for all Americans and "small" cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits, opposition eases, albeit to a still-majority 53 percent, with 45 percent support. Support spikes among young adults, to 62 percent. However, intensity of sentiment pushes back: Strong opponents to this notion outnumber strong supporters by 2-1, 40 percent to 19 percent.
Compromise nonetheless can be popular; a bipartisan 59 percent support the budget agreement that avoided a government shutdown the week before last -- although that is tepid, with just 18 percent "strong" support.
ADVANTAGE? -- While Obama holds a small lead on taxes and a larger one on protecting the middle class, there are close divisions on related issues. The president and the Republicans in Congress score about evenly, 45-44 percent, in trust to find the right balance between cutting spending that's not needed and continuing programs that are needed. And it's 42-46 percent, a numerical GOP advantage, in trust overall to deal with the national debt, despite differences in how to do that.
Obama has an advantage on another gauge, ideological positioning. Forty-eight percent of Americans say he's "about right" ideologically on most issues. Fewer, 37 percent, say the same of the Republican leaders in Congress.
The number of Americans who call Obama "too liberal" on most issues has eased by 6 points since September, to 39 percent, declining by 9 points among independents and moderates alike. And while he's gotten some criticism recently from liberal groups, just 8 percent call him "too conservative," essentially unchanged.
It's the Republicans, instead, who have more trouble on their flank -- not only do 40 percent call them "too conservative," but 18 percent call them "too liberal" -- including a third of very conservative Americans and more than a quarter of strong Tea Party supporters.
The public by a narrow 45-40 percent also says the Republicans in Congress currently are taking the stronger leadership role in Washington. Many more said so about the Democrats in April 2007 and the Republicans in April 1995, but then the parties were newly in control of the House and Senate alike, not solely the House, as now.