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Rochester Voters Agree on $250B+ Deficit Reduction, Changing Spending Priorities & Rolling Back Tax Cuts

Survey Finds Rochester Area Republicans & Democrats Share Common Ground on Federal Spending and Taxes

In an innovative survey of Rochester voters that gave respondents the opportunity to make changes to the discretionary federal budget and federal taxes, a majority of Republicans and Democrats converged on steps to reduce the deficit by $251.3 billion, making significant changes on spending and taxes.

The survey, part of a joint project of the nonpartisan organizations Common Ground Solutions and Voice of the People, was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation with a representative sample of 414 registered voters in New York’s 25th Congressional District, which covers the greater Rochester area.

Today in Rochester, local residents gathered at the Democrat and Chronicle to take the same survey, in person, and be part of a discussion of the issues led by the leaders of the sponsoring organizations.

“With Congress so polarized that it cannot effectively negotiate, our tax and spending policies are hostage to gridlock,” said Howard Konar, director of Common Ground Solutions and Rochester resident. “This survey shows our elected leaders that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, and that it’s time for them to come together.”

How it Works

The survey was conducted with a unique online instrument, called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ that aims to put the public in the shoes of policymakers.  Respondents were presented discretionary spending levels for FY2017 & FY2018, current sources of general revenues and proposals for new ones.  They were given the opportunity to propose changes to spending areas and specific revenue sources for FY2019, getting constant feedback on how their choices affected the projected deficit.

Anyone can participate in the interactive policymaking simulation that lets them make changes to tax and spending levels as they see fit.  The simulation is available at http://vop.org/budget.

“This survey gives everyone a tool to make their voice heard,” said Konar, “and shows our leaders that there are common ground solutions to our hardest problems.”


Majorities of Republicans and Democrats converged on $65 billion in spending cuts. The deepest cut was $47 billion in defense spending, followed by a $9 billion reduction to Homeland Security, a $3 billion cut to the Department of Justice’s enforcement of laws, $2 billion to operations in Afghanistan and Syria, as well as other smaller cuts.

The biggest changes, though, were on the revenue side, with majorities of both Republicans and Democrats converging on a total of $186.3 billion in tax increases. These included:

  • a new tax of 0.1% on financial transactions ($63 billion),
  • partial rollback of the tax cuts for corporate taxes ($50.5 billion)
  • partial rollback of the tax cuts on incomes over $200k ($44B),
  • a new fee on the uninsured debt of large financial institutions ($10 billion),
  • a new tax of one half cent per ounce of sugary drinks ($10 billion),
  • an increase in the alcohol tax ($6.6 billion)
  • repeal of treatment for hedge fund managers income as “carried interest” ($2.2 billion).

“Clearly Americans are concerned about the deficit and are ready to make some tough choices to bring it down—more than Congress is even prepared to consider,” said Steven Kull, President of Voice of the People.

The overall majority of survey respondents (though not a majority of both Republicans and Democrats) also took a number of additional steps and generating additional revenue, including:

  • partially rolling back the cuts in the new tax law for incomes of $100,000 to $200,000 ($28B)
  • fully rolling back the tax cuts for incomes over $500,000 (a total of $33.2 billion).
  • deeper cuts in spending, especially to defense (a total of $75 billion) and Homeland Security (a total of $19 billion).

All told, the overall majority reduced the deficit by a total of $389.9 billion, with $104 billion in spending cuts and $285.9 billion in revenue increases:

  • a majority of Democrats cut the deficit by $539.2 billion, including a net$120 billion cut in spending, and $419.2 billion in revenue increases.
  • a majority of Republicans cut the deficit by $259.3 billion, including a net $73 billion cut in spending and $186.3 billion in tax

The sample included a representative sample of 414 registered voters from New York’s 25th Congressional district, which covers the greater Rochester area. The sample was provided by Precision Sample and Survey Sampling International from their opt-in internet panels.

Questionnaire with Findings: http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Fed_Budget_FY19_Quaire_NY25.pdf

Majority of US Voters Oppose Tariffs on Solar Panels

A new survey finds that nearly six in ten voters oppose the new tariffs on solar panels imposed by the Trump administration, including a majority in very red districts.  However, nearly six in ten Republicans favor the tariffs.

On January 22, the Trump administration imposed a tariff on solar panels in response to requests from two solar panel producers with operations in the United States.  The two companies, named Suniva and Solar World, said that solar panels were being imported from other countries, especially from Asia, in such high volumes that these companies could not compete.  The tariffs are 30% in year one, declining to 25% in year two, 20% in year three and 15% in year four.  A new bill in Congress, with bipartisan sponsorship, has just been dropped to reverse these new tariffs.

The survey of 1,999 registered voters was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland (PPC), and released today by the nonpartisan organization, Voice of the People (VOP). Neither VOP nor PPC take a position on the issues, but seek to the give the public a greater voice.

Respondents were given a short briefing including why the tariffs were imposed and the opposition from solar installers and environmental groups.  They were then asked to evaluate arguments for and against the proposal before making their final recommendation. The survey content was reviewed by experts in favor and against the solar tariffs, to ensure that the briefing was accurate and balanced, and that the strongest arguments were presented.

Steven Kull, director of PPC commented, “While Americans do respond to the arguments that American jobs are being lost to low price imports and that the US should push for better trade deals, the counter arguments–that tariffs could hurt the solar industry overall, and that there is a risk of starting a trade war—do better. While protectionist arguments hold some sway, in the end the majority comes down against the new tariffs.”

The first argument in favor of the tariffs stressed the economic benefits.

A tariff on solar energy panels will help protect some manufacturers of solar cells and panels, operating in the U.S., whose products are being undercut by a surge of lower-priced imports.  Some of these companies have gone bankrupt, costing American jobs, and more could follow.  The tariffs will give these companies a few years of breathing room they need to flourish. According to the government, this relief from the tariffs could generate thousands of new jobs in the solar manufacturing industry.

This argument was found convincing by 65%, including 58% of Democrats as well as 73% of Republicans.

The counter argument said:

These tariffs will ultimately hurt the solar industry and American workers as well.  The tariffs will raise prices on solar products, making solar energy more expensive.  Tariffs don’t help build manufacturing infrastructure in the US – smart energy policy does.  According to industry experts, though tariffs may benefit a few solar manufacturers, for the industry overall, they will result in about 20,000 fewer high-paying jobs.  Solar was finally getting cheap enough to compete with coal, providing a low-cost alternative electricity source and leading to cleaner and healthier air.

A slightly larger number found it convincing—71%, especially among Democrats (84%).  However, a smaller majority of Republicans (57%) found it convincing.

The next argument in favor of the tariffs emphasized the potential for better terms in trade deals saying:

Many of the trade deals that are negotiated between the United States and other countries are a bad deal, and America’s inability to compete in the manufacture of solar energy panels is yet another reflection of those bad deals. The United States has too often let countries like China push us around. The United States should more strongly confront other countries on how they treat America and get better deals. Pushing back on low-priced solar energy panels is a good place to start.

A more modest 55% found this argument convincing.  While a large majority of Republicans (74%) found it convincing this was true of less than half of Democrats (39%).

The counterargument went as follows:

If we start putting up tariffs against imports, it will only hurt us in the end.  Other countries will retaliate and put tariffs on US products and we could end up in an escalating trade war.  Reducing the supply of solar panels will cost the jobs of Americans who install them. Free and fair trade has been an important part of the growth of the US economy, resulting in lower prices for American consumers.  It is fine to try to negotiate better trade deals, but randomly picking solar energy panels as a target for new tariffs does not make sense.

This did substantially better than the pro argument with 68% finding it convincing, including a slight majority of Republicans (52%), as well as an overwhelming majority of Democrats (85%).

Asked for their final recommendation, 58% said they opposed imposing “a tariff on solar energy panels of 30% in year one, declining to 25% in year two, 20% in year three and 15% in year four,” including an overwhelming 76% of Democrats and a slight majority (51%) of independents.  However, 58% of Republicans favored the tariff.

The sample was divided six ways according to Cook PVI rating for the district in which they lived.  Among those living in very red districts opposition to the tariffs was lower than for the nation as a whole, but still a majority of 54% were opposed.  In very blue districts 67% were opposed.

Among Republicans support for the tariffs is highly related to attitudes about Trump.  Among Republicans who voted for Trump, 63% favored the tariffs, while among those who did not only 27% did with 71% opposed.

Steven Kull comments, “Historically there have been minor differences between Republicans and Democrats on trade issues.  It appears that Donald Trump’s challenge to the prevailing trade order is related to growing polarization between Republicans and Democrats in the public.  Ironically, this polarization is in a direction that is the opposite of the historical polarization between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.”

For all educational levels a majority was opposed, but opposition was lowest among those with high school or less (53%), rising with higher educational levels and reaching 67% among those with higher degrees.

Opposition was higher among those age 18-34 (62%) and 35-44 (65%), dropping at higher ages, with the lowest level of opposition being 52% among those age 65 and up.

The survey was conducted online from March 9-23, 2018 with a national probability-based sample of 1,999 registered voters, provided by Nielsen Scarborough from Nielsen Scarborough’s sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The national sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

Survey: Six in Ten Oppose Legislation to Delay Lowering Ground Ozone Levels  

A new survey finds that six in ten voters oppose proposed Congressional legislation that postpones, for eight years, current requirements to lower ground ozone levels.  Such ozone contributes to the creation of smog and is harmful to humans, but lowering ozone levels incurs economic costs.

The legislation, H.R 806 Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, passed the US House on July 18,2017 and is now pending in the Senate.

Nationwide, a majority of 61% opposed the legislation, including 76% of Democrats and 62% of independents.  Fifty-five percent of Republicans favored the legislation.

The survey was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) at the University of Maryland, with a sample of 1,999 registered voters and released today by the nonpartisan organization Voice of the People.

Respondents were also divided six-ways according to the Cook ratings for how Democratic or Republican their district votes, from very red to very blue.  In very red districts, 54% opposed the legislation, while in very blue districts 66% were opposed.

“Though air quality has improved over the least decades, a majority of Americans continue to press for further improvements, even when presented the costs,” commented Steven Kull, director of PPC.

To ensure that respondents understood the issues, they were first given a briefing and evaluated three arguments in favor and three arguments against the legislation.  The content was reviewed by proponents and opponents of the proposals to ensure the briefing was accurate and balanced, and that the strongest arguments were presented.

Respondents were told that in 1990, with bipartisan support, Congress passed an update of the Clean Air Act, which called for gradually reducing ground-level ozone. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was charged with establishing the standards for this process and working with the states to meet them. In 2008, the EPA lowered the maximum ozone allowed to 75 parts per billion. Though some states had not yet reached this level, in 2015 the EPA further lowered the ozone level to 70 ppb, requiring states to develop a plan for meeting this standard by the early 2020s.

Asked how important they think it is to lower the maximum allowed ozone level, 76% said they think it is very (48%) or somewhat (29%) important.  Among Democrats, nine in ten said it was important, as did six in ten Republicans.

Respondents were informed about the costs and benefits assessed by the EPA.  These included both economic and health-related effects.

They then evaluated arguments for and against legislation delaying, by eight years, the requirement for states to develop a plan to lower their ozone levels by the early 2020s to 70 ppb.  The argument in favor found convincing by the largest number—59%—went as follows:

To meet this new ozone standard, states could be required to place restrictions on everything from manufacturing and energy development to infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, hurting their economy. This will hurt the many people who are already having a hard time economically. This bill would give states more time to get ready for the new standard, thus balancing the needs for better air quality and economic growth.

The other pro arguments, saying that the EPA is moving too fast and that the requirements are too demanding for some states with especially high ozone levels, were found convincing by half.

The arguments against the legislation did substantially better, in all three cases being found convincing by more than seven in ten.  Seventy-four percent found convincing both the arguments that, “Extensive research has clearly shown that ozone is dangerous, especially to children, the elderly, those with respiratory illnesses, and unborn fetuses.”  The same number found convincing the argument that the EPA is already giving more time to states for which it is especially difficult to lower their ozone levels, so it does not make sense to ease up on the standards for all the states.

Asked, in conclusion, whether they favored or opposed “legislation in Congress that delays, by eight years, the requirement that states undertake a step-by-step plan for lowering the maximum allowed ozone levels from 75 ppb to 70 ppb,” 61% said they were opposed, including 76% of Democrats and 62% of independents.  However, 55% of Republicans favored the legislation.

The survey was conducted online from March 9-23, 2018 with a national probability-based sample of 1,999 registered voters, provided by Nielsen Scarborough from Nielsen Scarborough’s sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The national sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

[I]t is the reason alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government.

James Madison, Federalist No. 49, February 5, 1788

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