PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. Postmaster General John E. Potter recently asked Congress for permission to cut the number of postal delivery days from six to five as a way to save his cash-strapped agency up to $3.5 billion annually -- a proposal that seems acceptable to most Americans. Sixty-six percent of Americans whom Gallup polled June 17-18 are in favor of that fiscal remedy.
The United States Postal Service is being squeezed by the economic slowdown on one side, and competition from the Internet and private carriers on the other. The resulting decline in mail volume is the main reason the Postal Service is projected to lose more than $6 billion this fiscal year, but rising gas prices threaten to make matters even worse.
Still, three in four Americans say it is "very important" to them that the U.S. Postal Service remain in business. The traditional post office is more important to women than to men, and to older than to younger Americans, but the large majority of every demographic group calls it very important. (See detailed table at end of this report.)
As for how to maintain the Postal Service, Gallup asked Americans about nine possible remedies that have been floated. Public support is highest for reducing mail delivery from six days a week to five, as well as for reducing to five the number of days that local post offices are open. Both measures are favored by 66% of Americans.
The only other solution backed by a majority of Americans is renting out post office buildings on nights and weekends for other uses -- however, just a bare majority favors this (51%), while 46% are opposed.
Americans are evenly divided at 48% over providing federal funding for the Postal Service, which until now has been self-supporting -- reliant solely on income from stamps and other postal products and services. Even fewer Americans, 38%, are in favor of raising stamp prices; 60% oppose that remedy. This may reflect public displeasure with the steady pace of recent price hikes for stamps -- rising by one or two cents in each of the last four years. Alternatively, it could indicate a more general desire to see the Postal Service tighten its belt even as many Americans are doing the same.
Just over half of Americans (54%) are opposed to closing some Postal Service offices, while 44% support that idea. At the same time, 88% are opposed to closing their own post office -- indicating that the customary "not in my back yard" mindset could very well limit the political feasibility of broad-based branch closures.
Last month, the Postal Service announced it had cut staff by 25,000, reducing its overall workforce to below 635,000. Eight in 10 Americans currently say they are opposed to laying off more postal service employees. Americans also object to reducing the services offered at post offices. Only 31% favor this option while 66% are opposed.
Strong Opposition to Closing Local Branches
Americans' detailed responses to each proposal provide another way to assess the political viability of the various ways of keeping the Postal Service solvent. In fact, few Americans feel strongly about most of the proposals -- saying they either strongly support or strongly oppose them.
The highest level of strong support is seen for reducing the number of mail delivery days and days that branches are open to the public. Slightly more Americans strongly favor these proposals than strongly oppose them.
With only 2% of Americans strongly in favor of having their local post office branch closed versus 37% strongly opposed, public opinion speaks loudest against this proposal. Attitudes are also substantially more negative than positive when it comes to laying off more postal employees and raising stamp prices.
Americans want to continue receiving the postal services they are accustomed to, and they don't want to see their local post office branches boarded up, but they are willing to live with a shorter postal week if that's what it takes to keep the U.S. Postal Service in business. Congress and direct-mail marketers have reportedly been cool to the idea of reducing mail delivery days, but it sounds like the best solution to taxpayers.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 992 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 17-18, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Note: These questions were asked of random half-samples for two nights of Gallup Daily polling, which interviews 1,000 U.S. adults each night.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.