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New Poll: Americans Torn on Budget Deficit Compromise

As Congress and President Obama seek compromise to deal with the so-called fiscal cliff, a new Goldfarb Center poll reveals that Americans are divided on the issue.

Asked a generic question on whether it is more important for a politician to find compromise solutions or to stick to principles, respondents overwhelmingly favored compromise: 61 to 35 percent. A full 73 percent of self-identified Democrats and 60 percent of independents suggested compromise solutions were preferable, but only 38 percent of Republicans said the same.

Yet, when asked more specifically about a range of policy disputes, support for compromise drops among all respondents. Just 41 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to compromise with others who disagree with them on federal budget deficit, compared to 34 percent who noted very or somewhat unlikely to compromise. Twenty percent were unsure.

Again, one’s partisanship was an important factor, with Democrats more likely than Republicans (54 to 34 percent) to agree with a compromise. Younger voters were also more likely than older voters (18-34-year olds 49 percent, 65 and older 34 percent) to suggest the same.

The survey, released today by Colby College, shows that American voters are more likely to favor compromise on the deficit (41 percent) than they are on the issues of immigration (34 percent), health care reform (33 percent), same-sex marriage (21 percent) and abortion (17 percent).

The poll was developed by Colby College Professor Daniel M. Shea. Since 2010 Shea has spearheaded a series of studies on civility and compromise. “Instinctively, Americans want compromise solutions and elected officials should take that to heart,” said Shea. “But when we dive into specific policies, it gets a bit fuzzy.”

Shea arrived at Colby as a professor of government and director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement in the summer of 2012. Along with Morris Fiorina of Stanford University, Shea is the coeditor of a new collection of essays on civility in politics, titled Can We Talk? The Rise of Rude, Nasty, Stubborn Politics (Pearson Longman, 2012).

Finally, while most want politicians to work together, 61 percent expressed pessimism when asked if the outcome of the 2012 election made things more or less likely to move in that direction.

The survey was conducted over the phone by SurveyUSA between Nov. 11 and Nov. 19, 2012. Respondents with land lines made up 65 percent of the sample and with cell phones the other 35 percent. In all, 1,534 registered voters were contacted, yielding a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.

Complete set of data