A new poll finds the public’s fears over the looming “fiscal cliff” growing, as the year-end deadline for a deficit deal nears.

Fifty percent of those surveyed in a new Gallup poll released Wednesday believe President Obama and lawmakers will reach an agreement to avoid January’s set of tax increases and automatic spending cuts. Forty-eight percent are doubtful a deal will be reached in time.


Those figures represent a drop in optimism from the last poll, taken on Dec. 16, which showed 57 percent saying that a deal would be struck and 40 percent believing a deal unlikely.

The poll also finds growing confidence in Democratic leaders’ handling of negotiations. Fifty-four percent approve of Obama’s efforts in talks, up from 48 percent last week. 

Forty-five percent approve of how Democratic leaders in Congress have handled negotiations, up from 34 percent in a poll taken Dec. 15-16. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights MORE (D-Nev.) has seen approval for his role in talks rise from 24 to 34 percent.

But the poll does not show a similar boost for Republican negotiators. Approval for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerGOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children MORE’s (R-Ohio) handling of fiscal talks rose only 1 percentage point, from 25 to 26 percent. Respondents also showed less confidence in Republican leaders in Congress, with 26 percent approving of how they have handled the deficit talks, down from 29 percent in the last poll.

Polls have consistently shown that the public will blame Republicans more if talks fail, and the president has sought to rally public support for his stance calling for tax hikes on the wealthy.

The poll’s results come as Obama is cutting short his vacation in Hawaii to return to Washington on Wednesday to resume negotiations. The House and Senate are also slated to be in session on Thursday.

Negotiators have less than a week to craft a deal before the nation falls over the fiscal cliff, a move economists warn could spark a new recession.

Gallup also finds that more Americans are paying attention to the negotiations. Thirty-four percent said they are following news about the talks “very closely,” the highest level of attention Gallup has found yet.

Voters also are pressing leaders to reach a deal. Sixty-eight percent say negotiators should “compromise” to 22 percent who urge them to “stick to principles” in talks.

The Gallup poll was conducted from Dec. 21-22 and has a 4-point margin of error.