Americans' relative confidence in President Barack Obama and their support for repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy could give Democrats an edge in budget negotiations, according to a Pew Research poll released Thursday, while Republicans risk portrayal as obstructionists.
"The Democrats are in a strong position with the public as they engage in negotiations to find a solution to the fiscal cliff crisis," the Pew report finds, echoing a slew of recent surveys that find broad support for a compromise between sides, but also a willingness to blame Republicans should the talks fail.
Obama's negotiating position is backed by strong approval ratings and the perception that he's more serious about working with Republicans than vice versa. The president's approval rating, at 55 percent, is more than twice that of Republican congressional leaders, who have suffered in the polls since the debt ceiling debate last summer.
Both parties are about equally trusted on jobs and the deficit, but the Republican Party is seen, by a 20-point margin, as "more extreme in its positions," than the Democratic Party, and as less likely to work across the aisle by an even greater spread.
A plan proposed this week by House Republicans would permanently extend Bush-era income tax cuts for the wealthy, taking off the table the most popular of the changes Pew polled on. About seven in 10 Americans support raising the tax on income over $250,000. Measures that would limit taxpayer deductions, raise taxes on investment income, and reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits for higher-income seniors also won majority support.
Public opinion on other proposed cuts was murkier. Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they support both spending cuts and tax increases, but a majority disapproves of specific cuts to education, infrastructure, defense and anti-poverty programs, as well as raising the retirement age for Medicare and Social Security.
Knowledge of what the fiscal cliff entails was also mixed, with 57 percent of Americans correctly identifying that the phrase refers to automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could go into effect next year, but 43 percent misinformed or not sure about what the term meant.
Only a quarter of people named the fiscal cliff as the country's biggest issue, unchanged since March. More named jobs as their biggest worry -- 22 percent of Americans believe that plenty of jobs are available, an increase from 10 percent two years ago.
Perceptions of the state of the economy have somewhat improved as well, with the percentage who say the economy is "poor" the lowest since January 2008. But pessimism about the future has also grown, fueled by a growing partisan divide, Pew found. While Democrats' economic outlook has remained the same in recent months, Republican confidence in America's economic future has plummeted since the election.
The Pew poll surveyed 1,503 American adults by phone between Dec. 5 and Dec. 9, with a 2.9-percent margin of error.