WASHINGTON (AP) — Almost half the country opposes tax increases for the richest Americans, according to a poll suggesting that congressional Democrats are taking some risk by backing President Barack Obama's plan to boost levies on the wealthy.
Less than 50 days from elections that Republicans hope will hand them control of Congress, The Associated Press-GfK Poll is stuffed with encouraging signs for the GOP. Huge majorities call the economy sickly and say Congress is doing its job badly.
By a 46 percent to 41 percent margin, people want Republicans steering the economy — the first GOP edge on that runaway No. 1 concern of voters in the AP-GfK poll.
And while Americans are evenly split over whether they prefer their district's Democratic or GOP congressional candidate, those likeliest to vote tilt toward the Republicans, 53 percent to 43 percent.
"Nothing's getting done," said Lisa Grimm, 52, an independent from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who like most in the poll said she is frustrated and disgusted with Washington politics. "Issues aren't being solved."
In a glimmer of hope for Democrats, the poll indicated that far from infatuated with the Republicans, the public is wary of both parties. Slightly more than half have an unfavorable view of each party, and about six in 10 disapprove of how each is handling the economy.
The survey showed that by 54 percent to 44 percent, most people support raising taxes on the highest earners, an issue that Obama and other top Democrats have thought could define their campaign-season differences with Republicans. Obama sought to capitalize on that edge Wednesday, accusing Republicans of holding tax cuts for the middle class "hostage" to force tax breaks for the wealthy.
"These are the same families who will suffer the most when their taxes go up next year," Obama said of middle-income earners, adding, "We don't have time for any more games."
Even so, the poll underscored the political pickle Democrats face in the tax fight. With broad tax reductions enacted under President George W. Bush expiring at year's end, Obama wants to renew the cuts for everyone except individuals earning at least $200,000 annually and couples making $250,000 and up.
Thirty-nine percent agree with Obama, while an additional 15 percent say the tax cuts should be allowed to lapse for everybody. Yet many Democrats seem wary, so close to Election Day, of provoking the 44 percent who say the reductions should include the wealthy.
While about three-fourths of Democrats favor raising taxes on the rich, about half of independents and nearly two-thirds of Republicans oppose the idea. Support for cutting everyone's taxes exceeds four in 10 people in every region of the U.S. except the Midwest, where one-third back the proposal. Even among people earning under $50,000 a year — mainstays of the Democratic Party — 43 percent want to continue the tax cuts for all.
"You shouldn't be penalized for making a good living," said Charles Ricotta, 55, a Democrat from Dunkirk, N.Y. "If you feel the government is cutting your throat, you might feel hesitant about hiring people."
Republicans say boosting taxes on the wealthy would stifle them from creating jobs, while Obama argues that the rich don't need a tax break that would add $700 billion to federal deficits over the next decade.
Congressional Democrats struggled Wednesday to decide what path to take. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sidestepped a question on whether lawmakers should vote on the plan before Election Day, while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he is "prepared to discuss alternatives" on the issue.
Looking ahead to the Nov. 2 elections, the poll showed that public expectations favor the GOP. By 60 percent to 31 percent, more expect Republicans to win control of Congress — including four in 10 Democrats.
Overall, 40 percent said the country is heading in the right direction, slightly better than last month but below the 48 percent who said so in the early months of Obama's presidency. Forty-nine percent approve of Obama's performance as president, a near-even split that has prevailed since early this year.
Asked their feelings about politics, the top emotions were frustration and disappointment, expressed by eight in 10.
Twenty-six percent of Democrats said they are excited about politics, compared with 80 percent of Democrats who said so in a November 2008 AP-GfK Poll just after Obama's election.
More than one in four expressed support for the conservative tea party movement, which has helped litter the electoral landscape with defeated incumbents in several states. While significant minorities of tea party supporters are critical of the GOP, the poll found they are far likelier to vote in November than other people; 85 percent plan to support their House Republican candidate.
In the wake of Obama's cutting U.S. troop strength in Iraq to 50,000, public approval of his performance there has soared to 60 percent. Six in 10 oppose the war in Afghanistan, and only about one in five expected the situation there to improve over the next year.
Obama is also winning increased public approval for health care, the environment and terrorism — but is mired at 42 percent approval for his work on the economy.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 8-13 and involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 randomly chosen adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points for adults and 5.7 percentage points for likely voters.
Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and Associated Press writers Natasha T. Metzler, Kevin Freking and Jennifer Kerr contributed to this report.