Nearly three quarters of Americans say that owning a home is “very important” to them and is worth the investment despite the risk of economic ups and downs.

That was one of the findings from a phone survey of 1,500 likely voters, conducted on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) over four days in early January. The trade group presented the results of that survey, along with its latest housing outlook and projections, during the International Builders' Show in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday.

The association commissioned this survey to blunt efforts to move government away from housing “and to show the true value of homeownership,” said Jim Tobin, NAHB’s chief lobbyist. The survey results certainly reinforce that sentiment, said Alex Bratty, a vice president with Public Opinion Strategies, which along with Lake Research Partners conducted the poll. “There was broad support of policies that support homeownership,” she said.

Among the survey’s key findings are the following:

•72% of voters believes it’s a good time to purchase a house. One third of 1,152 voters who own a home say it remains one of their “best investments.”

•A strong majority of those polled see homeownership as reinforcing family and community values, and nearly two thirds see it as a stepping stone toward achieving what they perceive to be the “American Dream.”

•Nearly 80% of the homeowners polled said they’d recommend purchasing a house to their friends; that number drops to a still-high 69% among homeowners whose houses are worth less than their mortgages.

•68% of the 246 renters participating in this survey said that owning a home is a goal. Of those respondents, 70% say they are renting “as a matter of circumstance,” such as a lost job or bad credit score.

An equally important component of this survey for NAHB are the findings that support the nation’s policies that support ownership. That support cut across political party lines, both in the respondents’ view that economic stabilization hinges on dealing with the foreclosure and mortgage crises, and that restoring the housing market should be one of the federal government’s priorities. (Nearly three-fifths of all respondents didn’t think either political party was doing a great job resolving the housing market’s problems.)

The most revealing findings, though, revolve around housing-related entitlements. Two-thirds of those polled think it’s “appropriate and reasonable” for the government to ensure that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages continue to be available to home buyers, and 75% think the same about the federal government using the tax code to encourage homeownership.

What NAHB is trying to prevent, both with its lobbying efforts and through surveys like these, is a reversal of government support for such incentives as the mortgage interest deduction, whose annual cost has become a target of budget cutting advocates. The voters polled, at least, are against any change in current tax policy: 73% would be against eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, and a smaller but still significant majority opposes reducing that deduction or limiting it to certain tax payers. (The results don’t change all that much when the respondents are broken down by party affiliation.)

And while 66% of voters favors lowering federal income taxes for individuals, 52% would oppose those tax cuts if they meant reducing or eliminating housing-related incentives such as the mortgage interest deduction. Bratty of Public Opinion Research noted that it was “highly unusual” for respondents to a telephone poll to make that kind of about-face.

NAHB is releasing this survey at a time when the housing market is coming off its worst year on record, but is showing signs of snapping out of its recession. “We are beginning to see some grains of good news,” said David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist.

In its latest forecast, NAHB projects that housing starts will increase by 16% to 499,000 units in 2012, and then shoot up to 660,000 in 2013. That same trajectory is projected for single-family home sales: a nearly 19% increase to 360,000 units this year, followed by a 40% jump to 505,000 sales in 2013.

However, both Crowe and his fellow economists at the presentation—Freddie Mac’s Frank Nothaft; and David Berson, with PMI Inc.—caution that any housing recovery is likely to be slow and spotty, especially when it comes to which market’s home prices hit bottom first. The good news, said Berson, is that “demographics are finally turning in favor of housing again,” most specifically household formation.

While he expects many of those households will choose or be forced to rent over the next two years, Berson also predicted that as rents rise and credit becomes more accessible, more potential home buyers will jump back into the market.

John Caulfield is senior editor with Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.