Some political analysts are viewing President Obama's willingness to rankle Democratic leaders and anger liberals by striking a deal with Republicans on extending the Bush-era tax cuts as a bid to win back independents in advance of the 2012 elections. A new Gallup poll
suggests that, politically, it may indeed have been a good way of moving towards that goal.
Liz Sidoti, who covers national politics for the Associated Press, saw Obama's strategy this way
: "The compromise portended more likely to come as Obama courts the fickle center of the electorate and positions himself as the pragmatic president many independents want. . . . Enter Obama's dealmaking with Republicans and criticism of Democrats, moves intended to try to reclaim that swing-voting territory as he casts himself as a president who puts people above politics."
Independents were a major force behind Obama's 2008 victory, but poll after poll this year showed that they had increasingly soured on him and, in this year's election, they did a dramatic about-face in favor of the Republicans.
The Gallup poll
, conducted Dec. 3-6, said two-thirds of all Americans backed the two key elements in the compromise deal -- extending the tax cuts for all and extending unemployment benefits.
Republicans and Democrats had differing levels of enthusiasm for each part of the deal. Eighty-five percent of Republicans favored extending the tax cuts but only 43 percent supported extension of unemployment benefits. Eighty-four percent of Democrats backed extension of unemployment benefits, while only 52 percent backed extending the tax cuts.
By contrast, independents were strongly in favor of both elements. Sixty-seven percent backed extension of the tax cuts and 71 percent supported extending unemployment benefits.
"The White House reportedly agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans partly to help lure independents back to the Democrats' fold by 2012," Gallup said. "That reasoning seems sound. By yielding on the tax cuts, Obama extracted Republican leaders' support for extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed -- and large majorities of independents support both measures."
Liberal Democrats have been vocal in their criticism
of the deal Obama made, and the Gallup poll showed that only 39 percent of them favored extending the tax cuts, according to the Gallup poll. Sixty-four percent of Democrats who described themselves as conservative or moderate supported extension. A big majority of moderate and liberal Republicans backed both the tax cut and unemployment benefit extensions, but only 38 percent of conservative supported the extension of unemployment benefits.
The deal was announced on Dec. 6, so Gallup was in the field with this poll mostly before the announcement. It framed its question, along with questions on a range of other issues, as part of what it called a "referendum-style" survey, asking Americans how they would vote if they could go to the polls and vote on each issue like they do for a candidate.
The AP's Sidoti says that in bidding for independents, Obama is "essentially betting that Democrats ultimately will fall in line behind him -- and hoping that no serious Democratic challenger emerges, much less a serious third-party candidate." (In Wednesday's New York Times, Matt Bai explored some of the talk on the left
about whether someone should challenge Obama for the nomination.)
A Pew Research Center poll
, also conducted just before announcement of the deal with the Republicans, tested sentiment among Democrats and found that while Obama got lukewarm marks on the question of standing up for the party's positions, most Democrats did not believe he was giving in too much to the Republicans.
Fifty-four percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners surveyed Dec. 1-5 said Obama was doing a good or excellent job in standing up for traditional party positions while 43 percent rated him only fair or poor, with 2 percent undecided.
Forty-eight percent graded as "about right" the extent to which Obama has gone along with GOP leaders, while 23 percent said he has done it too much and 13 percent said too little, with 16 percent undecided.
The new Gallup poll did not break down support for the tax cut extension by those who favored it for all and those who wanted to extend the cuts but exclude high-income earners. A USA/Today Gallup poll
conducted in mid-November said 44 percent favored extending the tax cuts but setting limits on high-income earner, while 40 percent backed extending them for everyone, with 13 percent wanting to let the cuts expire and 3 percent undecided.
In the Pew poll, 47 percent said the tax cuts should be extended only for households with incomes of less than $250,000, 33 percent favored keeping all the cuts in place and 14 percent would have let the tax cuts expire, with 15 percent undecided. An alternate proposal to set the income cutoff at $1 million got less support.
A Bloomberg poll
, conducted Dec. 4-7, said 34 percent of those surveyed wanted the tax cuts extended for the middle-class but not those earning $250,000 or more, 19 percent favored extending the cuts for everyone, and 16 percent backed the idea of permanent extension for the middle class but only a two year continuation for high-income earners. Four percent were undecided.
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