WASHINGTON - As President Barack Obama prepares to cut his Hawaii vacation short and return to Washington, a new poll indicates only half of Americans believe he and Congress will strike a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff by the year-end deadline.
The Gallup daily tracking poll released Wednesday showed 50% thought a deal was very or somewhat likely, compared to 48% who said a deal was not likely. That's a much tighter margin than a poll taken earlier this month: On Dec. 9, 59% said a deal was likely, while 38% considered a bargain unlikely.
In mid-December, there were signals Obama and House Republicans were close to an agreement that would avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax increases that go into effect at the end of the year. But hopes of a deal were deflated last week when some House Republicans refused to support a compromise plan put forth by House Speaker John Boehner.
Wednesday's poll showed just over half of Americans -- 54% -- support Obama's handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations. That's compared with just 26% who approve of the job Boehner is doing. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, had an approval rating of 34% for his role in the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Reid is poised to assume a larger role going forward, since the battlefield for cliff negotiations appears to be shifting to the Senate this week after GOP disarray in the House stymied any progress before Christmas.
The major sticking point between the two sides continues to be taxes. Democrats want to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, while Republicans want to extend lower tax rates for all levels of income.
The White House announced late on Christmas Day that the president would leave for Washington on Wednesday to work with lawmakers on a way to avoid the cliff, cutting short his vacation in Hawaii, which began Friday. According to multiple Democratic and Republican sources, no weekend conversations occurred between the White House and Senate leaders from either party or their aides.
The Gallup poll showed 68% of Americans said lawmakers should compromise in order to reach a fiscal cliff solution, while 22% said leaders should stick to their principles and not compromise on either tax increases or spending cuts.
The Gallup tracking survey was conducted Dec. 21-22 by telephone with 1,076 adults. The sampling error was plus or minus four percentage points.