Republicans Gain on Deficit, Economy; But Trust in 'Neither' Hits a 25-Year High

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The Republicans in Congress have moved ahead of President Obama in the public's trust to handle the deficit and battled him to parity on the economy. But another issue, Medicare, poses risks for the GOP, and both political parties are losing ground in another sense: A record number of Americans don't trust either of them to cope with the nation's main problems.

The Democrats have bragging rights on the overall measure; Americans pick them over the Republicans to handle the country's main problems by 41 to 32 percent. But 20 percent -- the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back to 1985 -- don't trust either party. Among political independents, rejection of both parties rises to 34 percent.

Charts and Questionnaire

That result marks the public's long-running economic discontent, and a concurrent retreat from party loyalty. Independents have outnumbered self-identified Democrats or Republicans steadily since September 2009, by far the longest run of its kind in 30 years of ABC/Post polling.

On some specific issues, in questions testing the Republicans in Congress vs. Obama, the Republicans have advanced significantly since spring. They now hold an 8-point lead in trust to handle the deficit, reversing a 9-point Obama advantage in March. And they've regained a numerical (albeit non-significant) lead in trust to handle the economy, 45-42 percent, reversing what was a 12-point lead for Obama.

The Republicans in Congress also stand at 44-41 percent vs. Obama in trust to find the right balance between cutting spending that's not needed while still retaining spending that is needed. And the two sides are rated essentially evenly, 43-42 percent Obama-Republicans, in trust to create jobs, the central issue of the day.

DEBT -- With Washington negotiators meeting again today, the poll finds broad concern about the economic impact of Congress's not raising the federal debt limit; 71 percent think this would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy. Nonetheless, far fewer, 51 percent, support proposals to raise the debt limit while also making deep cuts in spending on federal programs.

The reason is that this plan raises hackles on both sides. Twenty-three percent oppose it because they don't want the debt limit raised. But 15 percent oppose it for the opposite reason, because they don't want deep cuts in federal spending. An additional 7 percent don't support either step.

At the same time, plenty do want the deficit addressed. Sixty-four percent say efforts to reduce the deficit should be taken now, rather than waiting until the economy improves, up by 8 points since December. Most, 57 percent, favor a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to do it; but preference for spending cuts alone is up by 6 points from its low in March, to 37 percent. And if both are used, 52 percent say the spending cuts should be bigger than the tax increases; fewer, 39 percent, favor a 50/50 approach. Naturally, partisanship strongly informs these views.

MEDICARE -- However, this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that Obama leads on another important policy and political matter, trust to protect the Medicare system; he's ahead of the Republicans on this issue by 49 to 35 percent.

The Republicans have other vulnerabilities here: Americans oppose the Medicare changes in the House-passed budget by 49-32 percent, with twice as many "strongly" opposed as strongly in support. Likewise 49 percent think the plan would require future Medicare recipients to pay more for their health insurance than they would otherwise; 37 percent think they'd pay the same or less (27 and 10 percent, respectively), with the rest uncertain.

Criticism of the Medicare plan reaches 57 percent among seniors, an important group to the Republicans because seniors tend to be ill-disposed toward Obama, and reliably turn out to vote. A large group of seniors, 45 percent, "strongly" opposes the proposed Medicare changes.

GROUPS -- The losses for Obama in trust to handle the deficit and the economy are based on two elements: independents have moved away from him, and he does less well in his own party than congressional Republicans do in theirs.

Three months ago, for example, independents favored Obama on the economy by 11 points; now they side with the Republicans in Congress by 5 points. And in March, 8 percent of Democrats trusted the congressional Republicans more than Obama on the deficit; now it's 19 percent.

That pattern is reversed, though, on Medicare. On this issue 19 percent of Republicans prefer Obama to their own party, and independents side with Obama by a 15-point margin, 47-32 percent.

Methodology -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone June 2-5, 2011, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. This survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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