Most Americans believe the massive federal budget deficit is a very serious problem that will create hardships for future generations, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.
Sixty-four percent say they are very concerned the deficit will create hardship in the future, and another 26 percent are somewhat concerned. Just eight percent say they are not concerned.
Fifty-six percent say the deficit needs immediate action, while 38 percent say efforts to address the deficit can wait until the economy has improved. Republicans and independents were more likely to push to deal with the deficit now, while Democrats were more likely to say it can wait.
So how do Americans propose to address the deficit? By cutting programs, not raising taxes. Sixty-two percent would prefer to cut programs from which they benefit, including 81 percent of Republicans. Just 29 percent want taxes raised, including 42 percent of Democrats.
Pollsters asked Americans which of three programs - the military, Medicare and Social Security - they would be willing to change to cut government spending. The military was by far the top choice, cited by 55 percent. Twenty-one percent cited Medicare, and 13 percent Social Security.
Asked specifically which of four options they would prefer to reduce military spending, the top choice (cited by 55 percent) was reducing troops in Europe and Asia. Nineteen percent wanted to eliminate weapons programs, 12 percent wanted to reduce non-combat military pay, and seven percent wanted to reduce the size of the armed forces.
In light of the fact that Medicare and Social Security take up a sizable chunk of the budget, respondents were asked whether they would prefer to reduce benefits or raise taxes to maintain the programs. Just one in four wanted to reduce benefits, while two in three favored raising taxes.
Given four options for reducing the deficit tied to Medicare, 48 percent said they would prefer to raise premiums for high-income Americans; 21 percent said they would prefer to raise the age for people to receive benefits; 16 percent wanted to raise premiums for all; and nine percent favored covering fewer treatments.
Given three options to keep Social Security financially sound, a clear majority chose reducing benefits for high-income Americans. Eighteen percent wanted to raise the age for people to receive benefits, and eight percent would reduce scheduled benefit increases.
Americans were also given four options for raising taxes to reduce the deficit and asked to choose between them. Thirty-three percent favored creating a national sales tax, while 32 percent favored limiting the mortgage interest deduction. Twelve percent wanted to raise the national gasoline tax, and ten percent favored taxing health insurance benefits.
Three in four Americans say it is acceptable for the government to run deficits - so long as they are kept manageable or only exist in emergency situations. Sixteen percent say deficits are never acceptable.
Despite Americans' concerns about the deficit, the vast majority do not see it as the nation's most pressing problem. Just six percent say the deficit is the nation's most important problem, the same percent that cite health care. By contrast, 51 percent say the economy and jobs are the paramount issue.
Just 26 percent say the economy is in good shape, while 74 percent say it's in bad shape. Still, that's an improvement from November, when 18 percent said they economy was in good shape, and February 2009, when just 5 percent said as much.
Thirty percent say the economy is getting better, while 21 percent say it is getting worse and 46 percent see no change in either direction. Thirty percent say the bad economy has reduced their wages or benefits, while roughly 70 percent say it has not.
Thirty-six percent of Americans say they have received a pay raise in the past year, and 28 percent say they received a raise one to two years ago. Twenty-nine percent said they it has been more than two years since they got a raise.
Americans remain concerned their jobs may disappear. Forty-one percent say they are very concerned about household job loss in the next year, compared to 36 percent who said as much in October. Only one in three say they are not very concerned or not at all concerned.
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,036 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone January 15 - 19, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
Watch Washington Unplugged's political roundtable with CBS News Director of Surveys Sarah Dutton and CBS Evening News Senior Producer Ward Sloane here.