WASHINGTON — Most people like President Barack Obama's proposal to make millionaires pay a significant share of their incomes in taxes. Yet they'd still rather cut spending than boost taxes to balance the federal budget, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows, giving Republicans an edge over Democrats in their core ideological dispute over the nation's fiscal ills.
The survey suggests that while Obama's election-year tax plan targeting people making at least $1 million a year has won broad support, it has done little to shift people's basic views in the long-running partisan war over how best to tame budget deficits that lately have exceeded $1 trillion annually.
"Everybody should be called to sacrifice. They should be in the pot with the rest of us," Mike Whittles, 62, a Republican and retired police officer from Point Pleasant, N.J., said of his support for Obama's tax proposal for the wealthy. But Whittles said he still prefers cutting government spending over raising taxes because of federal waste and what he calls "too many rules, too many regulations."
Sixty-five percent of the people in the AP-GfK poll favor Obama's plan to require people making $1 million or more pay taxes equal to at least 30 percent of their income. Just 26 percent opposed Obama's idea.
Yet by 56 percent to 31 percent, more embraced cuts in government services than higher taxes as the best medicine for the budget, according to the survey, which was conducted Feb. 16 to 20. That response has changed only modestly since it was first asked in the AP-GfK poll last March. The question on Obama's tax on the rich was not asked previously.
The poll showed that overall, more people have a positive view of Democrats than Republicans, a ray of hope for Obama and his fellow Democrats with the approach of November's presidential and congressional elections. Fifty-four percent in the poll gave Democrats favorable ratings compared to 46 percent for Republicans, similar to results in January 2011, at the start of the newly elected Congress in which Republicans have run the House and Democrats wield a slender Senate majority.
Though embraced by congressional Democrats, Obama's proposal on taxing millionaires more has virtually no chance of passage by Congress in the political heat of this year's campaigns. But it stands as a rallying cry for Democrats — about 9 in 10 of whom supported the plan in the poll — and it contrasts with proposals by the remaining major GOP presidential candidates, who would lower the current 35 percent top income tax rate.
Obama has spent months touting his plan, nicknamed the Buffett rule after Warren Buffett, the billionaire who has complained that the rich don't pay enough taxes and that his own tax rate has been lower than his secretary's. The wealthy Mitt Romney, a leading GOP presidential contender, has released tax returns showing he paid a rate of around 15 percent the past two years.
Illustrating the wide acceptance for Obama's tax proposal for the rich, the poll showed it was supported by nearly two-thirds of independents and 4 in 10 Republicans. It also won backing from 6 in 10 whites and half of conservatives, two groups that traditionally are more likely to support the GOP, as well as by 6 in 10 people earning at least $100,000 a year.
Not everyone supports the idea.
"If their money goes to taxes, how will they afford more employees, better equipment, better vehicles?" said Cheryl Mickler, 31, of Hope Mills, N.C.
As for the differing strategies for deficit reduction, more than three-fourths of Republicans and the largest share of independents preferred cutting government services. Democrats leaned toward tax increases, but by a narrower 49 percent to 38 percent.
Republicans have an 8 percentage point advantage over Democrats in the public's trust for handling budget deficits, essentially unchanged in recent months.
The GOP has the same edge for protecting the country, an issue it usually dominates. Peoples' trust in the two parties is about even for handling the economy, taxes and job creation.
Congress continues to receive dismal reviews from voters. Just 19 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, virtually unchanged from last December. That's not far from Congress' worst-ever approval rate in the brief history of the AP-GfK poll of 12 percent last August, shortly after Obama and lawmakers resolved a stubborn standoff over raising the debt limit.
"We put them there to do their job and they're not doing their job," said Gary Witalison, 54, a residential painter in Fish Creek, Wis. "They're not working things out. Work together."
The AP-GfK poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and involved cell phone and landline interviews with 1,000 randomly chosen adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
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