A new poll from the National Journal shows that the principle of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans by letting the Bush tax cuts expire remains extremely popular, even as some Democrats show trepidation about the idea.

A new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows that only 26 percent of the public wants to see all of the tax breaks created during the George W. Bush administration, which are set to expire at year’s end, extended for at least another year. And only 18 percent want the tax breaks across all income levels made permanent, the position taken by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney [...]

In the poll, 47 percent of respondents said they wanted to see the tax breaks extended only for those earning less than $250,000. Eighteen percent said they prefer that all the tax breaks simply expire, which would result in higher taxes across the income spectrum.

The 18% support for letting all the tax cuts expire equals the 18% support for extending all the tax cuts permanently. And yet the emphasis in Washington on these two poles of the debate is anything but equal.

Meanwhile, the plurality supports letting the tax cuts above $250,000 expire. This mirrors the position of the Obama White House and Americans for Tax Fairness, the coalition that has sprouted up around the issue. It does not mirror Nancy Pelosi’s contention that “middle-class” tax cuts include up to $1 million in annual income.

But at the same time as this support for the extension was being relayed, conservative Democrats in the Senate were wavering on whether or not they would allow the tax cuts to expire at all.

At least seven Democratic senators have declined to rule out supporting a temporary extension of the Bush-era income tax rates, breaking with party leaders who have called for letting the rates expire for people earning more than $1 million per year.

Democrats running for reelection, such as Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have declined to endorse their leadership’s call for a tax increase on wealthy families.

Instead, they want Congress to pass a broad package that would cut spending and reform the tax code, which they argue would inject new confidence into the private sector.

“I would much prefer dealing with the tax code, with all the expenditures, in a bigger package similar to the Simpson-Bowles [deficit reduction] proposal,” Tester said. “If we can do that and we can roll out a big package that is significant, then we can do something with the tax rate from a reforming-it standpoint and do some things that really get our deficit and debt under control.”

Manchin sounded the same theme.

“I’m totally for the Bowles-Simpson [plan] and will continue to work for Bowles-Simpson. We need to revamp the system and I think Bowles-Simpson is the pragmatic way to do it.”

They don’t seem to realize that Bowles-Simpson would actually let the Bush tax cuts expire over $250,000. It’s good for them to abstractly reference some kind of deficit reduction plan that allows them to avoid specifics. But if this is being done for purposes of re-election, the same admakers who would hit these Senators for raising taxes would be able to hit them for calling for the same increased taxes in Bowles-Simpson. So this is a fool’s errand.

Mark Pryor, Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Bill Nelson and Ben Nelson similarly would not rule out a full extension. This runs in direct contrast to polling and would seem to be based entirely in ideology.