Washington (CNN) - A new national poll suggests that cuts in federal spending are likely to be hard to sell to the American public, even though the desire for less spending on domestic programs is significantly higher than it was during the Reagan and Clinton years.
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday, the number of Americans who want more government spending on domestic programs equals the number who want the government to spend less. Overall, 49 percent say the federal government should spend more money for domestic programs; that figure is up 17 percentage points since 1994. Another 49 percent saying less should be spent on domestic programs.
"Aside from party identification, the biggest demographic differences on this question were between younger and older Americans," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "A majority of Americans under 50 want more spending on domestic programs. But 57 percent of Americans older than 50 think the government should spend less on these programs."
For most of the government programs tested in the poll, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, college loans, and aid to farmers and unemployed workers, Americans say that avoiding significant spending cuts is more important than reducing the deficit.
"Many of the budget cuts proposed last week by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who are heading up a presidential commission on deficit reduction, appear to be highly unpopular, including changes to Social Security and the federal tax code," adds Holland. "The public opposition to some of the proposals made by Simpson and Bowles illustrates what a hard sell spending cuts will be."
According to the poll, more than seven in ten oppose eliminating the deductions taxpayers can take for mortgage payments and young children; two-thirds oppose an increase in the federal gasoline tax. Two-thirds also oppose an increase in the retirement age for Social Security and three-quarters don't like the proposal to reduce the yearly increase in Social Security benefits. Only about one in three feel that reducing the deficit is a higher priority than keeping the current levels on farm aid and college loans, and only one in five think that deficit reduction is more important than keeping the current levels of spending on Medicare and Social Security.
But the survey indicates that some federal programs are not popular: 61 percent say that deficit reduction is more important than funding for the arts, and 68 percent say reducing the deficit is more important than avoiding cuts in pay and benefits for federal workers.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted November 11-14, with 1,014 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.
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–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.