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Poll: On deficit, immigration, guns, public in sync with Obama

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto, and Fred Backus

As President Obama prepares to update Congress and Americans about his agenda at tonight's State of the Union address, a new CBS News poll shows he receives public support for many of his policies.

Americans favor a combination of spending cuts and taxes to tackle the deficit (59 percent); stricter guns laws (53 percent); drone strikes against suspected terrorists overseas (71 percent); a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children (74 percent); and development of alternative energy sources (68 percent).

The Budget Deficit

While the economy and jobs are the top concern for Americans, the budget deficit comes in a distant second.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans favor a combination of taxes and spending cuts as the best way to reduce the deficit, while 32 percent favor only cutting federal spending.

Gun Policy

Views on changes to gun control laws are similar to last month, with 53 percent saying they should be made stricter, 10 percent saying they should be made less strict and 34 percent saying they should be kept as they are.

There continue to be differences along party lines on this issue, with most Republicans wanting gun laws to be kept as they are now (60 percent) and most Democrats wanting stricter gun laws (78 percent).

A majority of Americans - regardless of whether or not they want stricter gun laws - think it is at least somewhat likely that significant changes to gun policy will be made this year, but only 27 percent think that is very likely to happen. Thirty-two percent think it's not very likely or not at all likely to happen.

Americans overwhelmingly (91 percent) approve of universal background checks on all potential gun buyers. Smaller majorities also approve of two other proposals by the Obama Administration for curbing gun violence: a national ban on semi-automatic "assault" weapons (53 percent), and a national ban on high-capacity magazines (59 percent).

Gun owners support universal background checks (90 percent), but they oppose bans on semi-automatic weapons (64 percent) or high capacity magazine clips (57 percent).

Fifty-four percent of Americans think stricter gun laws would help deter gun violence at least somewhat, including 21 percent who think that would deter it a lot. Gun owners are far more skeptical than Americans who don't own a firearm.

But gun owners agree with Americans who don't own guns on two other measures to reduce gun violence that have recently been endorsed by the NRA: better mental health screening and treatment, and more police and armed security guards. Eighty-one percent of Americans think better mental health screening would help at least somewhat to reduce gun violence overall, and 75 percent think more police and armed security guards would help at least somewhat to curb mass shootings in public places such as schools, movie theaters, and malls.

Immigration

At 53 percent, support for allowing illegal immigrants working in the U.S. to stay and apply for citizenship is now the highest it has been since 2007, when the question was first asked. Just 21 percent want to require these illegal immigrants to leave the country.

Partisanship plays a role in views: 38 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Democrats want these illegal immigrants to be able to apply for citizenship.

Support for a path to U.S. citizenship is even higher for those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Seventy-four percent favor a path to citizenship for such people; just 18 percent oppose that.

Most don't see illegal immigrants as an employment threat. By two to one (59-29 percent), the public thinks illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. take jobs Americans don't want, rather than taking jobs away from Americans. Among Republicans, 41 percent think illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

By a large margin (69-26 percent), Americans think the U.S. could be doing more along its borders to stop illegal immigration. That view is held by people of all political views.

About two in three (63 percent) think significant changes to immigration policy are at least somewhat likely to occur within the year - but just 21 percent think that is very likely to happen.

The Drone Program and Targeting U.S. Citizens Abroad

The practice of using unmanned drone aircrafts to attack suspected terrorists in foreign countries - a policy begun by the Bush Administration and expanded under Mr. Obama - enjoys widespread and bipartisan support. Seven in 10 Americans favor using drones to attack suspected terrorists abroad, including large majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Americans also support a more controversial measure, although in smaller numbers. Forty-nine percent of Americans favor the targeting and killing of U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected of carrying out terrorist activities against the U.S.; 38 percent oppose that.

Energy and Climate Change

Nearly all Americans (90 percent) think it is at least somewhat important to develop energy sources as alternatives to using oil, including 68 percent who say that is very important. While there are differences between Republicans and Democrats on this, even a majority of Republicans think that is very important.

There are real concerns about global warming and its source. Half of Americans think global warming is having a serious impact now, and another 28 percent think the impact will happen in the future. Just 19 percent think global warming won't have a serious impact at all.

Forty-eight percent think global warming is being caused mostly by human activity, such as burning fossil fuels. Another 31 percent think it is caused by natural patterns in the earth's environment. Just one in 10 says it does not exist.

Iran

Even as diplomatic talks with Iran stall over their potential nuclear weapons program and the resulting economic sanctions against them, more than half of Americans - 52 percent - think Iran is a threat that can be contained with diplomacy. But the percentage that thinks Iran is a threat that requires military action now - 22 percent - is the highest it has been since CBS began asking the question in 2006, and up nine points from four years ago.

Afghanistan

Americans are divided over how things are going for the U.S. in its 11-year long conflict in Afghanistan. Forty-three percent think the war in Afghanistan is going at least somewhat well for the U.S., while 47 percent think it is going at least somewhat badly. Optimism about how things are going in Afghanistan has risen 18 points since March 2012, when it plummeted temporarily to 25 percent after the alleged killing of 16 Afghanistan civilians in Kandahar by Sgt. Robert Bales.

For full poll results, see next page

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This poll was conducted by telephone from February 6-10, 2013 among 1,148 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line 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 may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.