(CNN) – Americans are at odds over how to tighten the country's fiscal belt and that's reflected in a similar conflict in leaders of government.
Ninety percent of the public can agree that the economy is the most important issue right now. But according to a new Associated Press-CNBC poll, the nation is divided over how to resolve the expanding deficit, which already exceeds one trillion dollars.
The poll reveals that 46 percent of the country would prefer increasing government spending on education, health care reform, and the development of alternative energy sources, even if it means that the deficit will grow. But, 47 percent say that reducing the deficit by cutting spending is the most important priority, even if it means the government could not implement new programs in the same areas. These findings echo the results from a CNN poll released two weeks ago; when asked if the government should spend more or less for domestic programs, half responded that it should spend more and half said it should spend less.
Despite the split, eight out of 10 believe that government services will have to be cut to balance the federal government, and almost two-thirds say some taxes will have to be increased. According to the AP-CNBC poll, the public agrees on what sacrifice will be needed. They also agree on cuts as six out of 10 say the government should reduce the number of federal workers and freeze their salaries and half of those surveyed say eliminating the tax deduction for mortgage interest is favorable if the overall income tax rate is lowered. Findings from the CNN poll are similar, as 68 percent of the public agreed that reducing the federal deficit is more important than preventing salary cuts for federal government workers.
Reducing education spending, the number of people in the military, and eliminating the child tax cut are, however, non-negotiable to over 60 percent of Americans, according to the survey. Just under half favor reducing Medicare and under half oppose reducing it. There is a similar divide among those in favor and those opposed to reducing Social Security benefits for seniors with higher incomes. The CNN poll underscores the finding that over half of the country said they were in favor of reducing Social Security for the wealthy to reduce the deficit.
Adding to the list of subjects over which the nation disagrees, Obama's approval rating similarly reflects a country divided; 48 percent both approve and disapprove of how he's handling his job. Though four in ten trust Democrats to handle the economy, the same amount trust the GOP to manage the deficit.
The mood of the nation continues to be solemn since 61 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction. When asked to look toward the future, almost half expect that life for the next generation of Americans to be worse and more than half fear the federal deficit will cause a major economic crisis for this country in the next ten years.
Actions to address the federal deficit are currently underway. The president announced a plan to freeze pay for federal workers on Monday, a move in line with the majority of public opinion. The bipartisan debt commission appointed by President Obama to recommend solutions for balancing the budget is also due to issue a report this week, and has discussed targeting Social Security and Medicare to increase savings.
The AP-CNBC survey was conducted by GfK Roper from November 18-22 among 1,000 adults on landline and cellular phones. It has a sampling error of plus-or-minus 4.3 percentage points.