Tax the rich? Americans say 'yes' - and spend more on job training too

After reading the latest Bloomberg National Poll on the U.S. economy, one is left wondering whether the poll was conducted in maybe France? Or perhaps Sweden?

No, it was conducted in the U.S., randomly surveying 1,000 adults from Dec. 3-7, and some the results are surprising, to say the least.

Concerning what the U.S. government could do to address the U.S. unemployment rate:

· 70% favored spending more money on education/retraining for unemployed citizens
· 68% favored giving businesses a tax credit for each person they hire
· 66% favored spending money on public works, such as roads and bridges
· 63% favored of cutting income taxes across-the-board to spur economic growth
· 60% favored of increasing spending on alternative energy

Concerning what to do to cut the federal budget deficit:

· 66% cited raising income taxes on the wealthy -- individuals making $500,000 or households making $1 million or more
· 57% cited cutting discretionary federal programs by 5% across the board
· 26% cited raising taxes on the middle class as well as on the wealthy
· 23% cited cutting the growth of spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security benefits
· 20% cited creating a new federal consumption tax, like a federal sales tax

Concerning spending/programs that helped cause the budget deficit:

· 71% said spending for the Medicare drug program was justified
· 45% said spending for the Afghanistan war was justified
· 33% said the 2009 stimulus package was justified
· 32% said the Iraq war spending was justified
· 27% said tax cuts for the very wealthy were justified
· 17% said government assistance to the auto industry was justified
· 11% said government assistance to the banking industry was justified

Concerning the condition of the U.S. economy one year from now:

· 54% said it would improve, but with some problems
· 23% said the condition would be the same as it is today
· 15% said it would be in worse shape
· 6% said it would return to full health
· 2% Not sure

Haunted by Unemployment

Wow. In a surprise, a majority of Americans say tax cuts for the wealthy were not justified. That suggests that President Obama and congressional Democrats have some leeway regarding tax increases on the wealthy to cut the budget deficit, but don't touch Social Security or the new senior citizen drug program.

Also surprising: A large majority, 70%, favor spending more money on education/retraining for unemployed Americans so that they can improve their skills. I've studied polls in public policy for more than 15 years, and I've never seen approval for a job-training program that high. It likely reflects the pervasiveness of the unemployment problem during this recession.

Also encouraging for investors: A majority, 54%, expect economic conditions to improve, and another 23% say the economy would stay the same. Combined, that creates a clear majority, 77%, who believe conditions aren't going to get worse. The significance? Given the link between consumer confidence and consumer spending, that suggests increased consumer spending in 2010. That's bullish for the economy, corporate earnings and, by extension, for U.S. stock markets.

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. You can read the full poll results here.

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