Public Opinion Supports Tax Cut Extension Only For Middle Class

As negotiations continue over whether to pass an extension of all or part of the Bush tax cuts, a new poll released last night shows a majority of Americans support extending the cuts only for families making less than $250,000 a year. Other recent polling shows similar levels of support for extending only some of the Bush tax cuts, but the polling also shows that failing to extend at least some of the cuts would be extremely unpopular.

The new poll, conducted by CBS News, found that 53% of adults surveyed prefer the cuts to be extended only for those making less than $250,000, while 26% believe they should be extended for everyone and only 14% want all of the cuts to expire. Extending the cuts only for those making less than $250,000 was the most popular option for Democrats (70%) and independents (47%), while Republicans were more likely to support continuing cuts for all Americans, but by only a 46% to 41% margin over allowing them to expire for those earning more than $250,000. The CBS News poll was conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 1 among 808 adults, and had a margin of error of four percentage points.

Other recent polling allowing respondents to choose between extending the cuts for all Americans, extending them for those meeting an income threshold, and extending none of the tax cuts has shown levels of support for extending only some of the tax cuts at or near 50% -- one poll by Gallup showed support slightly lower at 44%, but that poll did not specify at what level of income taxes would be allowed to expire.

All of the polls on the Bush tax cuts released since the election, however, show very low levels of support for letting all the tax cuts expire, making it politically unpalatable for politicians to allow this year's congressional session to pass without reaching a compromise.

One poll earlier this month tested at least one potential avenue for compromise on the issue -- that poll, by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, offered respondents the options to extend all cuts permanently, extend them for only those making less than $250,000, extend none of them, or to extend all cuts, but only temporarily. Extending cuts for those making under $250,000 still received the highest total (39%) in that poll, but 23% advocated extending them temporarily. In the same poll, 10% wanted to eliminate all cuts and 23% wanted to keep all cuts in place permanently.

Another proposed compromise would be to extend some of the cuts but use a different income threshold from the $250,000 proposed by Democrats. In the Nov. 19-21 USA Today/Gallup poll, respondents who favored income testing were given the option to choose what income threshold they felt should be used as a cut-off. In that poll, $250,000 was the most popular threshold chosen by respondents -- 26% of all respondents wanted an income threshold of $250,000 or more, while 12% wanted a $500,000 threshold or more and 5% wanted an income limit of $1 million or more. 40% of respondents to the poll wanted to keep the cuts for everyone.

The Senate is expected to vote next week on bills extending all or part of the cuts, but Republicans have promised to block any bill that doesn't extend the cuts for all Americans regardless of income.

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