Trying to stem a revolt from Democrats against President Obama's approach to the Bush tax cuts, the White House is circulating two memos from Democratic pollsters that make the case for staying the course on a plan to raise taxes on the richest Americans.
The president wants to extend the Bush tax cuts only for the middle class, while Republicans want to keep the rates steady across the board. The polling memos tell congressional Democrats that they need not fear supporting Obama's plan, even though national surveys show the public is deeply divided over it.
The pollsters argue that the public is mostly in favor of Obama's approach; that independents will stick with Democrats on the issue; and that the president's plan allows his party to "drive a clear contrast" with Republicans.
Pollster Geoff Garin argued it would be "untenable" for Republicans to hold their ground on across-the-board tax relief if the result is a middle-class tax hike.
"President Obama has articulated an approach to the tax cut debate that offers a winning political proposition for Democrats because it frames the issue in a common sense way that is squarely in sync with views and priorities of the electorate," Garin wrote. "Indeed, there would be anger and indignation among voters against either party if it stood in the way of continuing the middle class tax cuts."
The memos, obtained by Fox News, come as rank-and-file Democrats in both chambers begin to side with Republicans in calling for tax relief for everyone. Thirty-one Democrats signed a letter this week to House leadership urging them to abandon the Obama plan.
Though polls generally show a majority of Americans support a tax hike on the wealthy, that support is not overwhelming.
An Associated Press-GfK Poll showed that 54 percent support the hike, while 44 percent oppose it.
The poll underscored the political pickle Democrats face in the tax fight. With broad tax reductions enacted under President George W. Bush expiring at year's end, Obama wants to renew the cuts for everyone except individuals earning at least $200,000 annually and couples making $250,000 and up.
Thirty-nine percent agree with Obama, while an additional 15 percent say the tax cuts should be allowed to lapse for everybody. Yet many Democrats seem wary, so close to Election Day, of provoking the 44 percent who say the reductions should include the wealthy.
While about three-fourths of Democrats favor raising taxes on the rich, about half of independents and nearly two-thirds of Republicans oppose the idea. Support for cutting everyone's taxes exceeds four in 10 people in every region of the U.S. except the Midwest, where one-third back the proposal. Even among people earning under $50,000 a year -- mainstays of the Democratic Party -- 43 percent want to continue the tax cuts for all.
Republicans say boosting taxes on the wealthy would stifle them from creating jobs, while Obama argues that the rich don't need a break and that raising their taxes would add $700 billion to federal deficits over the next decade.
Congressional Democrats struggled Wednesday to decide what path to take. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sidestepped a question on whether lawmakers should vote on the plan before Election Day, while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he is "prepared to discuss alternatives" on the issue.
A polling memo from John Anzalone and Mark Keida cautioned that Democrats "must be exceedingly disciplined in their messaging" as they sell the Obama plan to the public. The memo said the message must make clear that Democrats are "siding with the middle class" and Republicans are "siding with millionaires."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.