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Polls: Paying for Katrina
Media Matters
Media cite Gallup poll question that masked actual Dem proposals for funding Katrina relief
September 22, 2005

A September 16-18 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll (subscription required) asked respondents whether they would support "raising taxes" to fund the recovery for Hurricane Katrina. But the poll did not ask a question that more accurately reflects current proposals: whether respondents would support paying for Katrina recovery by allowing Bush tax cuts to expire. Democratic leaders have advocated the latter, and polls that include it as an option produce very different results from Gallup's. CNN and The Washington Post both referenced the "raising taxes" question in reports on paying for Katrina relief.

Gallup used the Republican label -- "raising taxes" -- as an apparent proxy for the predominantly Democratic proposal of not extending the tax cuts upon their statutorily mandated expiration date. Similarly, as Media Matters for America noted, USA Today, one of the sponsors of the poll, equated a proposal not to extend President Bush's tax cuts past their sunset date with a proposal to "rais[e] taxes," echoing the characterization of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

Accusing Democrats of raising taxes is a standard Republican line of attack. During the 2004 presidential campaign, for example, the Bush-Cheney campaign pummeled Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) by accusing him of voting to increase taxes 350 times, even though many of those votes were, in fact, to not reduce taxes or to reduce taxes but not to a level Republicans advocated.

Similarly, Democratic proposals (here and here) to pay for hurricane relief efforts have involved letting Bush tax cuts approved in 2001 and 2003 expire as scheduled. Democrats have suggested allowing Bush tax cuts -- which include reduced rates on capital gains and dividends -- to expire in 2008; extending those cuts to 2010, as Republicans have proposed, would reduce government revenue by $70 billion.

Gallup's question, referenced on the September 20 edition of CNN's Daybreak and the September 19 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight as well as in the September 21 issue of The Washington Post, asked participants to identify "the best way for the government to pay for problems cause by Hurricane Katrina." The possible options were: "increase federal budget deficit," "raise taxes," "cut spending for war in Iraq," "cut spending for domestic programs," "other," and "no opinion." Only 17 percent of respondents favored "raise taxes," with a +/-4 percent margin of error.

But when the option is included in polling to allow tax cuts to expire, the response is significantly greater. A September 16-18 Associated Press/Ipsos poll and a September 9-12 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll both specifically included repealing tax cuts in a similar list of choices for respondents. In the AP/Ipsos poll, 29 percent chose that option, and 27 percent chose it in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. By contrast, only 7 percent in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll chose "raise income taxes" as their preferred option. Each had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. Moreover, a September 11 ABC/Washington Post poll, which contained a question phrased similarly to Gallup's, also included a separate polling question related to the "70 billion dollars in tax cuts over the next five years" proposed by "some federal lawmakers," and specifically asked, "Do you think those tax cuts should go forward as proposed, or do you think they should be put off for the time being?" 59 percent responded that they should be delayed, with a +/- 3 percent margin of error.

Following are the full results of the above polls on this question.

CNN/USA Today/Gallup, September 16-18
If you had to choose, which of the following would you say would be the best way for the government to pay for the problems caused by Hurricane Katrina -- [ROTATED: increase the federal budget deficit, raise taxes, cut spending for the war in Iraq, (or) cut spending for domestic programs such as education and health care]?

Cut spending for war in Iraq 54%
Raise taxes 17%
Increase federal budget deficit 15%
Cut spending for domestic programs 6%
Other 5%
No opinion 3%

Associated Press/Ipsos, September 16-18
If you had to choose, which one of the following options do you think is the best way for the government to pay for the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina?

Cut spending on Iraq 42%
Delay or cancel additional tax cuts 29%
Add to the federal debt and gradually pay it back 14%
Cut spending for other domestic programs like education, welfare, transportation, and health care 11%
Not sure 4%

NBC/Wall Street Journal, September 9-12
Some people have estimated that the cost of relief, recovery, and rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina could reach as high as two hundred billion dollars. Which one or two of the following actions do you think should be taken to help pay for the hurricane relief efforts. (IF MORE THAN TWO, ASK:) Well, if you had to choose just one or two, which would you choose?

Reduce Iraq war spending 45%
Repeal income tax cuts that are scheduled to take effect next year 27%
Keep the estate tax in place 15%
Cut federal spending in other areas, such as education 12%
Increase the deficit 8%
Raise income taxes 7%
None of these 8%
Not sure 6%