THE HILL POLL: Voters find recession blues difficult to shake

Almost two years after the recession officially ended, pronounced pessimism about the economy lingers, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill. It’s worrying for President Obama that voters are especially bleak when asked about their personal circumstances.

Forty-six percent of voters say they feel worse off than they did a year ago, almost three times as many as the 16 percent who feel more affluent. Around one-third of voters — 36 percent — say their economic situation has remained essentially unchanged from 12 months ago.

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The negative responses to this question may be fed, at least in part, by the rising gas prices that have been seen across the country in recent weeks as well as continuing weakness in the housing market. Similarly, while job growth has returned, its pace has been more anemic than most Americans would like. 

Voters don’t want to see taxes increased in response to the growing fiscal pressures facing the nation, the poll also indicated. Instead, they prefer significant cuts to government spending as a remedy.

Presented with a menu of choices to help curb the national debt and federal deficit, almost half of voters — 45 percent — support spending cuts alone, the poll indicates. By contrast, only 13 percent favor an even split between cutting spending and raising revenue through tax increases.

By a margin of two-to-one, respondents also said they would be unwilling to see any increase in their own tax rates even if this helped reduce the debt and deficits. Only 28 percent said they would be prepared to pay higher taxes, while 56 percent said they would not.

The findings of the new poll will be heartening to Republicans and discombobulating to Democrats as the fight over raising the debt ceiling heats up. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted last week that taxes were “off the table” in negotiations over the deficit. By contrast, prominent Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) have advocated a 50-50 split between tax increases and spending cuts.

The Hill Poll suggests that Republicans would be wrong to become complacent, however. 

Voters are evenly divided on which party is more trustworthy on economic matters. The Democratic Party and the GOP were favored by an identical proportion of voters – 43 percent – when asked which party would be better at creating a strong economy.

Also, the proportion of respondents who favor some kind of tax increase as part of a budgetary fix — even if as a minor strand compared to spending cuts — totals 39 percent.  (Fifteen percent would like to see $3 of spending trimmed for every $1 raised through new taxes and 11 per cent would like the ratio to be 2 to 1, along with the 13 percent who prefer a dollar of spending cuts to a dollar in higher taxes.)

These findings are striking at a time when President Obama’s handling of the economy continues to weigh on his overall popularity. 

Earlier this month, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that, even as Obama’s approval rating soared in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing, voters disapproved of his handling of the economy 55-34 percent. 

The Hill Poll also suggested that the idea of spurring the economy through new tax cuts for businesses was supported by voters, though hardly overwhelmingly. Forty-five percent said they favored such cuts, while 39 percent were opposed, a difference that split along predictable ideological lines. The national survey of 1,000 likely voters by Pulse Opinion Research was conducted on May 11, 2011, and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.