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NBC/WSJ poll: Public wants compromise to avoid fiscal cliff

President Obama said he's willing to compromise, but it remains to be seen whether or not he will reject House Speaker John Boehner's back-up plan which would prevent tax hikes on those making less than $1 million. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

An overwhelming majority of Americans want Congress and the Obama White House to reach a deal featuring both tax increases and spending cuts to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Click here for full results from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (pdf)

In fact, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and political independents each support such a deal.

Yet respondents are split over whether any kind of agreement can be reached, and nearly seven in 10 believe that the coming year will feature Democrats and Republicans in Congress showing little willingness to come to an agreement on important matters.

Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, says the public is sending this one-word message to Washington: compromise.

“Doing something trumps doing nothing,” Hart said.

Related: Boehner: 'Serious differences' separate GOP from Obama

The survey – conducted a month after November’s election – also shows a positive uptick in opinion toward President Barack Obama, and more negative views about defeated GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. The poll also finds that a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

Fiscal cliff talks have stalled as 'serious differences' remain between both parties – and according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll the public wants an agreement, soon. Although both sides are still discussing ways to avoid the fiscal cliff, neither side is optimistic that they'll come to a resolution before Christmas. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

Hints of a thaw’

According to the poll, a combined 68 percent of Americans say that the fiscal cliff – the looming combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to take place at the beginning of next year if nothing is done – is either a “very serious” or “fairly serious” problem.

A similar two-thirds of respondents are willing to accept an increase in taxes or cuts in federal government programs they care about to reach an agreement to avoid the problem.

Asked another way, 65 percent say leaders in Congress should find a compromise to reduce the budget deficit, even if that means Democrats would need to accept targeted spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and that Republicans would need to accept targeted increases in tax rates.

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss the latest developments in the fiscal negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

By comparison, just 28 percent believe that leaders should stick to their traditional positions on the deficit – even if that means Congress goes over the fiscal cliff, triggering those automatic spending cuts and tax increases.

“There are hints of a thaw here, compared to previous data we’ve seen,” McInturff says.

Indeed, for the first time in the poll, a majority of Republicans (59 percent) want GOP leaders in the House and Senate to make compromises in order to gain consensus in the current budget debate.

Previously, in 2011, majorities of Republicans said they preferred GOP leaders to stick to their positions rather than make compromises.

And the percentage of Democrats who favor compromise on this question (70 percent) is now at an all-time high in the survey.

With Christmas less than two weeks away, the White House is faced with the same key question – Can House Speaker John Boehner deliver enough Republican votes for whatever debt deal he and President Barack Obama agree on. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

Who’s to blame if there isn’t a deal? Everyone

Yet the public is split – 48 percent of respondents are optimistic, and 48 percent are pessimistic – over whether Congress will be able to reach consensus to avoid the fiscal cliff. And another 69 percent believe that the next year on Capitol Hill will be marked by division and little willingness to compromise.

If there is no compromise on the fiscal cliff and the automatic tax increases and spending cuts go into effect at the beginning of next year, 24 percent say they will blame congressional Republicans more, while 19 percent will point the finger at Obama and congressional Democrats.

But a majority of respondents (56 percent) say they’ll blame both sides equally.

Still, twice as many Americans say they trust the president more in handling this fiscal situation (38 percent) than House Speaker John Boehner and the congressional Republicans (19 percent).

And significant majorities believe Obama holds a clear mandate from the election on issues related to this subject:

  • 68 percent say he has a mandate on cutting taxes for families earning less than $250,000 per year
  • 65 percent say he has a mandate on reducing the deficit by both increasing taxes on the wealthy and reducing federal spending
  • And 59 percent say he has a mandate on eliminating the Bush-era tax cuts for household income over $250,000 a year.

Obama’s lift vs. the GOP’s decline

Speaking of Obama, the poll shows an uptick in his numbers after his victory in last month’s presidential election.

Fifty-three percent of adults approve of his overall job performance, and 49 percent approve of his handling of the economy – higher marks on these questions than at any time during the 2012 campaign.

Another 53 percent say they feel either “optimistic and confident” or “satisfied and hopeful” Obama will do a good job as president, which is up three points from Oct. 2012.

“Any president has a little bit of a lift heading into the first few months of any new term in office,” McInturff, the GOP pollster, says.

Thursday's "Gaggle" which includes Jackie Kucinich, Margie Omero, Perry Bacon and Bob Costa talk about the fiscal cliff negotiations.

But if Obama is getting a lift after the election, the Republican Party is seeing a further decline.

The GOP’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll now stands at 30 percent/45 percent (minus-15 points), which is down from 36 percent/43 percent (minus-7) right before the election.

That’s compared with the Democratic Party’s 44 percent/35 percent rating (plus-9 points).

What’s more, asked to give a word or short phrase to describe the Republican Party, 65 percent offered a negative comment, including more than half of Republicans.

Some of the responses: “Bad,” “weak,” “negative,” “uncompromising,” “need to work together,” “broken,” “disorganized” and “lost.”

By contrast, 37 percent gave negative descriptions of the Democratic Party, while 35 percent were positive.

“Republicans have gone off the image cliff,” says Hart, the Democratic pollster.

“Elections have consequences,” McInturff adds about the GOP. “And among those consequences is the cost of losing.”

The consequences of losing also exist for Romney, whom Obama defeated in November.

Romney’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll is 35 percent/44 percent (minus-9 points), down from his 43 percent/44 percent score (minus-1) before the election. Much of that drop comes from Republicans and conservatives. 

Majority supports same-sex marriage

Finally, for the first time ever in the NBC/WSJ poll, a majority of respondents – 51 percent – support same-sex marriage.

That percentage in support is up from 30 percent in 2004, 41 percent in 2009 and 49 percent in March 2012, demonstrating how quickly public opinion on this issue has changed in just eight years.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Dec. 6-9 of 1,000 adults (including 300 cell phone-only respondents), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.