WASHINGTON — People back Republican tax cut plans but not the GOP campaign to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, according to a poll suggesting that the Republicans' big Election Day win was not a mandate for the party's legislative wish list.
Fifty-three percent say income tax cuts that soon will expire should be renewed for all — including the highest earners, as Republicans want — according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll conducted just after last week's elections. But 44 percent would continue the cuts only for those earning under $250,000 a year — which Obama favors — or let them lapse for everyone.
When it comes to the health care law Obama signed in March, just 39 percent back the GOP effort to repeal it or scale it back. Fifty-eight percent would rather make even more changes in the health care system or leave the measure alone.
Two-thirds want the Senate to ratify Obama's nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, including most Democrats, about 6 in 10 Republicans and independents — and even about half of conservative tea party supporters. Some Republican senators oppose the treaty. The Obama administration hopes to win Senate approval in the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress and will need GOP support to garner the 67 votes required.
Tax cuts and Obama's health care law were top-tier issues in this fall's congressional election campaign, which ended with the GOP gaining a majority of seats in the House and narrowing their Senate minority. The election was waged in the shadow of unyieldingly bad job and housing markets that polls show left many voters disenchanted with Democrats.
"I think everybody wants change," said Steven Lamb, 60, a Tennessee state government worker in Nashville who voted Republican last week despite opposing the party's stance on tax cuts and health care. "I'm tired of what's going on, and the only way to do it is to make a change."
The preference for cutting everyone's taxes was a turnabout from September, when most in an AP-GfK poll favored omitting the wealthy from the reductions by 54 percent to 44 percent.
In further evidence that last week's decisive GOP win was not an embrace of Republicans, the poll found that the party is no better liked than Democrats. Both got favorable ratings from about half in the survey.
The poll also showed support, though modest, for divided government. More than 4 in 10 said the country will benefit from a Republican-controlled House while Democrats run the Senate and White House, almost twice the number who say that will be bad. A third said it doesn't matter.
"Lately, we're not prospering and one party has been in control," said Suzanne Fairchild, 33, of Pahrump, Nev., who recently lost her job and likes divided government in Washington. "When they're busy bickering with themselves, the rest of us can get along with our lives."
The poll underscored deep partisan divides on taxes and health care. About three-quarters of Republicans want extended tax cuts to include the wealthiest, while nearly two-thirds of Democrats want to exclude the wealthy. While 61 percent of Republicans want to repeal Obama's health overhaul, 85 percent of Democrats want to expand it or leave it in place.
Among independents, about half want the tax cuts to include those with the highest incomes. About two-thirds want to preserve Obama's health package or strengthen it.
Republican pollster Christine Matthews said GOP leaders have to avoid reading too much into the election results.
"They don't want to get into Obama's shoes and over-interpret their election as a strong mandate," she said. "I think they're taking it, and I think wisely, as a rejection of the general principles, of overreach, too much government."
With Obama's re-election campaign and the next round of congressional elections two years off, both parties must decide whether to seek compromise or clashes. While Obama and House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio have talked of possible accommodation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has spoken of blocking Obama in hopes of fueling his defeat in 2012.
Boehner has called last week's elections "a mandate for Washington to reduce the size of government." McConnell has said that rather than falling in love with Republicans, the public "fell out of love with Democrats."
Brendan Daly, spokesman for outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats would work with Republicans on creating jobs and reducing the federal deficit and oppose efforts to threaten the health care overhaul, Social Security or other programs.
Neither Boehner nor McConnell can boast much personal support from the public. For each, about a third view them favorably, about a quarter unfavorably and about 4 in 10 don't know enough to say.
The poll also found:
—Sixty-three percent rarely or never worry about being victims of terrorism.
—Almost two-thirds think Obama is handling terrorism effectively.
—Sixty-two percent don't want any countries to have nuclear weapons, while just 6 percent said any country that develops them should be able to keep them.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Nov. 3-8 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications and involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 adults chosen randomly from across the U.S. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
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