The best part of this poll?  The sampling follies at CBS don’t even really matter, although this poll’s sample is closer to reality than most.  When given a choice between tax hikes or spending cuts, it turns out that 77% of Americans are Tea Partiers, as Jammie Wearing Fool says:

[A CBS] News poll finds that Americans strongly prefer cutting spending to raising taxes to reduce the federal deficit. While 77 percent prefer to cut spending, just nine percent call for raising taxes. Another nine percent want to do both.

Yet most Americans could not volunteer a program they’d be willing to see cut in order to reduce the deficit – only 38 percent could name a program they would support cutting. The top responses were military/defense (six percent), Social Security/Medicare (four percent) and welfare/food stamps (four percent).

However, Americans are more willing to consider cuts when presented with specific ideas, as the chart above illustrates. The most popular ideas for reducing the deficit are to reduce Social Security benefits for the wealthy, reduce the money allocated to projects in their own community, reduce farm subsidies and reduce defense spending. More than 50 percent supported reductions in each of those programs.

In this case, the partisan split in the sample favored Democrats by four points after the weighting, with a D/R/I of 31/27/42.  That overrepresents independents and underrepresents Republicans, but in this case, it hardly matters.  The overwhelming results show that a very clear consensus exists on spending cuts rather than tax hikes.

This means that we can explain the bump Barack Obama got in polling after the lame-duck session.  The deal to keep tax rates at current levels turns out to be very popular indeed, but that may be a problem for Obama in 2012.  He told his base that he plans to fight for tax hikes that will occur at the end of 2012 and make that a major issue in the upcoming election cycle.  If so, I hope Obama has his post-presidential career planning in hyperdrive at the moment.

No one is buying the arguments from some liberal economists that deficits don’t matter, either.  Only 7% of respondents thought that governments should run any kind of deficit it needs to meet its policy goals.  Almost three-quarters believe that deficits should only be run in emergencies or “if manageable,” a rather expansive qualifier to be sure.  Eighteen percent said deficits are “never acceptable” — a small minority, but two and a half times larger than those who don’t care about deficits at all.

While respondents had trouble choosing cuts on their own, the suggested cuts from the survey seem mostly popular.  For instance, although some have argued that a mandate doesn’t exist to tackle entitlement reform, over 60% of all three party affiliations support the idea of reforming Social Security — although only Republicans have a majority for raising the retirement age.  Majorities of Republicans (73%) and independents (55%) would cut federal funding for local projects, which a plurality of Democrats (48%) also support.  Majorities in all three classes want an end to farm subsidies, and majorities of Democrats and independents support cuts to defense spending, while only 39% of Republicans support it.

Those are clear areas of considerable consensus for this Congress to pursue.  We have approached a crisis point in this nation’s finances that has awakened the electorate to the dangers of the current federal spending spree.  If Congress fails to act, the midterm wave of 2010 will look like a ripple compared to what comes in 2012.