Higher Taxes on the Rich is the Most Politically Feasible Path to Deficit Reduction

Bruce Bartlett has a post up analyzing some recent polling on American attitudes toward tax and spending issues. The poll reveals overwhelming public support for deficit-reduction via spending cuts combined with gross ignorance about what this actually entails:

Question 4: “If your country were to decide to cut public spending, how much, if at all, do you think the cuts will affect you and your family?”

US response: 9 percent believe they will not be affected at all, 35 percent think they will only be affected a little, 40 percent expect a moderate impact, and 16 percent believe they will be affected a lot.

Question 5: “Which of the following policy areas do you think should bear the biggest part of the spending cuts burden?”

US response: foreign aid, 72 percent; national defense, 31 percent; unemployment benefits, 22 percent; health care, 18 percent; education, 11 percent; police protection, 7 percent; and 26 percent chose other.

The problem, as CAP’s excellent where does the money go interaction highlights, is that foreign aid can’t bear “the biggest part” of anything:

foreignaid 1

At the same time, 71 percent agree that “governments should make the rich contribute more than the less well-off, e.g. by paying more taxes.” The common thread in both cases is that people want to make people who aren’t them—rich people and foreigners—carry the load. The difference is that while you can’t solve the long-term budgetary challenge purely by raising taxes on the rich, you can make a difference through this method. What’s more, note that 71 percent is an overwhelming majority. It means there are a substantial number of die-hard, rock-ribbed Republicans who’d never in a million years vote for Barack Obama who support higher taxes on the rich.

Of course if you entirely discount the preferences of poor people, I bet the numbers come out differently. And to a first approximation, that’s how legislators behave. So you get Erskine Bowles putting together a mostly-cuts package of proposals that conservatives will deem too left-wing.