Wealthy Americans say growing the economy matters more in the coming year than slashing federal spending.

Forty-four percent of affluent Americans say economic growth should be President Obama's top priority in the next 12 to 18 months, compared with 19% who list lowering the deficit and 15% who say political gridlock should be the President's chief concerns, according to a survey released Wednesday by Northern Trust, the nation's third-largest custodial bank.

Tax increases and spending cuts set to start next week unless the President and Congress can negotiate a deal to override them has spurred a round of planning in the wealthiest households, the survey also found.

The wealthy are more likely to invest in tax-free bonds, realize capital gains and give some of their fortune to heirs in anticipation of higher taxes on those activities if lawmakers cannot avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

According to the survey, 31% of Americans who have at least $5 million to invest are likely to takes steps to prepare for impending changes in tax laws, compared with 13% of Americans who have at least $250,000 to invest.

"Results show that high-net-worth Americans are taking active steps to adapt to a changing tax environment," Suzanne Shier, a tax strategist with Northern Trust, said in a news release.

The findings are based on interviews with 1,700 people via the Internet that were conducted on Northern Trust's behalf by a market research firm.