The Bloomberg National Poll out today contains a note of caution for Republican presidential candidates (and their colleagues in Congress) who vow to oppose any tax increase, under any circumstances: Many Americans doubt they can keep their promise and a slim majority doesn't even want them to.
When asked how the congressional supercommittee should fulfill its mandate to slice $1.5 trillion from the national debt, 51 percent of respondents say it should focus more on raising taxes for those earning above $250,000, while 35 percent say the emphasis should be on cutting entitlement programs such as Medicare.
In addition, 59 percent of those polled say it will be "impossible" for the supercommittee to meet its goals without cutting entitlement programs or raising taxes. On this question, there is wide consensus across political lines: 64 percent of Republicans say this is so, as do 54 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents.
Clearly, Americans are ready to acknowledge that dramatic and painful steps must be taken. To be sure, the poll shows predictable political differences over how best to move forward: 51 percent of Republicans -- and 53 percent of self-described Tea Party supporters -- say they favor cutting entitlements over raising taxes, while 72 percent of Democrats and a plurality of independents, 48 percent, say the emphasis should be on taxing the higher incomes.
Yet that still means one-third of Republicans favor increasing the burden on the wealthiest before cutting social programs. This is perhaps an indication that the question isn't quite as settled as it seemed a month ago, when all eight candidates participating in the Republican presidential debate in Iowa said they would oppose even a measure that contained 10 times more spending cuts than tax increases.
The poll of 997 adults was conducted Sept. 9-12 by Selzer & Co., based in Des Moines, Iowa, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
(Max Berley is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)