The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 13, 2013

Polls say Obama’s proposals broadly popular


By Aaron Blake

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — President Obama set the tone for his second term Tuesday, going through a litany of policy proposals that he will pursue in the months and years ahead.

And polls suggest most of his big proposals have broad public support.

That doesn't mean, of course, that Congress will pass the bills, but it does suggest that the president is pushing ideas that the American public is broadly receptive to.

Below, some of the major items Obama talked about Tuesday, alongside what the polls say about them and how that bodes for congressional action.

1. Increasing the minimum wage

Obama is pushing for a gradual increase to $9 an hour, from the current $7.25. This is not new for Obama, who previously said he wanted to up the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011.

Polling routinely shows Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of increasing the minimum wage. In fact, a Public Religion Research Institute poll in 2010 showed that two-thirds of Americans would like to see the minimum wage at $10 an hour — including 51 percent of Republicans. What's more, about two-fifths of states have increased their minimum wages beyond the federal level.

Of course, that doesn't mean raising the minimum wage will be easy. Businesses say that forcing them to pay a higher minimum wage will make them to scale back hiring, and Republicans in particular will be sensitive to that complaint.

2. A path to citizenship and tougher border security

Obama called for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants that includes a penalty and for going to the end of the line, behind immigrants that have begun the process legally. He also called for increasingly tough border security.

Both are popular, but stricter border security is basically a no-brainer, with 83 percent in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll in favor.

The path to citizenship also has clear majority support, with 55 percent of people supporting it in the same poll. A recent CBS News poll that gave a third option — allowing immigrant to stay as guest workers — showed 51 percent supported a path to citizenship and 20 percent favored a guest worker program, while just 24 percent favored deportation.

3. Only "modest" Medicare and Social Security reforms

The president said the cost of the looming sequester should not be shifted to the nation's entitlement programs, and Americans tend to agree. Poll after poll shows Americans don't like basically any changes that could scale back their Medicare and Social Security benefits, with more than 80 percent opposing such changes to both programs.

In addition, Obama suggested that the poor and middle class shouldn't shoulder the burden of such changes. That's another message that resonates. In fact, a significant majority of people say they are just fine with cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits — as long as they are being cut only for the wealthiest Americans.

4. Increased gun control

Obama name-checked increased background checks — which are hugely popular, even among gun rights supporters — but didn't push specifically for the assault weapons ban, which is also a part of the White House's gun proposals in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. (Obama instead mentioned "weapons of war" and the more broad desire to get them off the streets.)

Polling has repeatedly shown that the assault weapons ban has around 50 percent support (45 percent in a Post-ABC poll, higher in others), but it appears very unlikely to pass in Congress, and thus the administration has been emphasizing that background checks are the key piece here.

But despite what happened in Newtown, guns are not a huge priority for Americans right now, ranking behind economic issues and on par with reining in spending on Social Security and Medicare.

5. Ending the war in Afghanistan

Before Obama's speech came news that the United States would draw down 34,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and that the war will be over by the end of 2014. Americans love this; polls show more than 70 percent of Americans favor ending the war.

6. Increased infrastructure spending

This is an old standard for Obama, and the American people support it. A Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll last year showed 63 percent thought increased spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects would help create jobs.

That's not quite the same as asking whether it would be good for the economy overall, of course. And in fact, infrastructure ranks relatively low on the list of priorities. A CBS News/New York Times poll in 2011 showed people would choose to cut infrastructure spending over cutting science and research, aid to the unemployed and education.

7. Addressing climate change

This also has majority support, with 51 percent in a recent WaPo-ABC poll saying they favor "new federal policies to address climate change." Of course, the devil is in the details, and Democrats failed to pass a so-called "cap and trade" energy bill even when they had total control of Washington, as Democrats from coal country and conservative districts balked.

It's not clear exactly what Obama will press for here, but the fact that only a bare majority of Americans support broadly defined "federal policies to address climate change" suggests it will be tough to do.

8. Increasing sharing of information to prevent cyber attacks

Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that would increase the flow of information between U.S. companies and the government in the name of preventing increasing cyber-attacks. But some are worried that such an arrangement would violate Americans' privacy by sharing their personal information and e-mails with the government.

A June 2012 Washington Post poll showed Americans are very much divided: 46 percent of people said such an information exchange was "justified," while 43 percent said it "goes too far."