Americans on Debt Ceiling Solution: Just Do It

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July 18, 2011 1:46 a.m.

When it comes to the polling around a debt ceiling deal Americans are clear: they want the government to…you know…fix it.

Even the concept of avoiding default is colored by how public polling questions are asked, and whether a solution is proposed. A recent Pew/Washington Post survey showed that 75% of Americans were concerned that not raising the ceiling would lead to default and hurt the nation’s economy. But when Gallup asked whether a voter’s congressperson should actually vote to raise the debt ceiling, only 22% said yes, with 42% giving a firm no.

What the government should do to address the situation is somewhat murky, but some trends have appeared. Gallup showed, in a very general question, that 62% favor addressing the debt with either mostly spending cuts or an equal balance of cuts and new revenue. And when it comes to taxes as part of the deal, it depends on how you ask the question.

When Rasmussen simply asked “As part of legislation to raise the debt ceiling, should congress and the president raise taxes?”, 55% of Americans, predictably, said no. But when Quinnipiac asked “Do you think any agreement to raise the national debt ceiling should include only spending cuts or should it also include an increase in taxes for the wealthy and corporations?” then 67% said yes, showing a swing when there was a clear definition of whose taxes would actually be raised.

But past any solution to the immediate problem, multiple polls showed that future spending is a major concern. The same Pew/Washington Post poll showed that a plurality of Americans are actually more concerned with the consequences of raising the debt ceiling, i.e. allowing the government borrow more money, rather than the immediate concern about default. The Quinnipiac survey showed a similar result: 43% responded that “raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending” was a bigger concern than “not raising the debt limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation’s economy.” Gallup produced the same, with only 32% saying averting disaster was the key component of a debt ceiling deal, and 51% saying raising the ceiling without a plan to cut spending is more worrisome.

So Americans want a deal. And most want a balanced deal with more cuts than new revenues. But the debate has clearly seared an aversion to future spending, and looks as though raising the debt ceiling will never truly be a formality again.

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