Introduction and Summary

Age and income make a difference in the perceived impact of a balanced budget and changes to Medicare. A majority of Americans with family incomes of $75,000 or more think they will be helped personally by a balanced budget, while smaller percentages of middle and lower income people foresee a personal payoff. A majority of Americans 65 years and older think they will be hurt by the proposed Medicare changes, and most seniors see little personal financial benefit in a balanced budget. The political consequences of these perceptions are striking. Those who think a balanced budget agreement is very important and believe that it will provide a personal payoff support the GOP in the budget dispute. In contrast, among those who see deficit reduction as important yet not personally enriching, support for the President’s approach prevails.

Nonetheless, a balanced budget is still largely a Republican issue. The poll finds that more Americans will credit the GOP (47%) than the President (31%) if a balanced budget plan is passed. However, if no deal is reached, the President will be blamed by as many (39%) as will fault Republican leaders (40%). The survey found no change since the summer in the percentage of Americans thinking that balancing the budget is very important (62%), and it observed a slight increase in the number feeling that Medicare faces serious problems in the future (56%, up from 52%).

The survey also reflected little change in basic political attitudes. Clinton’s approval rating remained at 50% — about where it has been since the budget showdown. Only about one-in-three approved of the plans and policies of GOP leaders (36%), which is also unchanged since the last Center for The People & The Press survey (“Voter Anxiety Dividing GOP; Energized Dems Backing Clinton.” Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press, November 14, 1995. Washington, DC.) Voters continue to divide evenly between those inclined to support Republican (46%) and Democratic candidates (47%) for the House next fall. Echoing this, 47% report they are happy that the GOP took control of Congress in the midterm elections, while almost as many (43%) say they are now unhappy about this.