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Gallup: Raising the debt ceiling would be hugely unpopular

My previous post assumed that Republican reluctance to raise the debt ceiling was rooted in either overaggressive negotiating strategy or fear of the Repubs’ own right wing. But I was insufficiently aware of another explanation.

Although rational experts agree almost unanimously that a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be economically catastrophic — and even a serious worry among investors that the debt ceiling might not be raised would set off a financial panic and multi-trillion-dollar selloff — the idea of raising the debt ceiling is powerfully unpopular with the U.S. public.

According to a fresh-out-out-this-morning Gallup Poll, by a wide 47-19 percent margin, Americans want their congressional representatives to vote against increasing the debt ceiling. (The missing 34 percent say they don’t know enough to have an opinion).

Among Republicans who say they do know enough to have an opinion, opposition to a debt ceiling hike is 70-8. Among independents, 46-15. By 33-26, a modest plurality of Democrats told Gallup they favored raising the debt ceiling.

A 57 percent majority say they are following the issue closely.

Oy.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/13/2011 - 09:29 am.

    Oy, indeed, Eric.

    I’m not at all enthused about raising the debt ceiling, and the older I get, the more I slide toward being – to use your label – a deficit hawk. That said, I’ve read enough to be persuaded that failure to raise the ceiling would likely have at least most of the hugely negative effects being looked upon with alarm by “the experts.”

    My own take on the unpopularity of raising the debt ceiling with the general public is that it’s part of what David Brooks has written about from time to time, and that I’m inclined to label as the “free lunch syndrome.” We (“we” meaning the society at large) don’t want to go further into debt. We also don’t want to pay more in taxes, and don’t care that taxes as a share of personal income are at their lowest point since Eisenhower was president. We also don’t want to see cuts in the services provided by government that affect us personally, though we don’t mind nearly as much if services to “others,” whoever they might be, are cut. If necessary, shrink the size of government to save money (i.e., lay off government employees), but don’t reduce the service level because there are fewer employees. Just be magically more efficient with the dollars you’re given.

    So… No cuts in services to us personally. No increase in taxes to pay for those services. No raising of the societal credit card limit to pay for those services if current tax revenue won’t pay for them. And if we have to lay off employees because revenue is not increasing to match costs, government should somehow be more efficient, so there is no lessening of service levels as a consequence.

    If you’re in government, especially in an elected position, this would be correctly interpreted as a “lose-lose” proposition.

    It’s the product of a grossly materialistic culture stuck in childhood, where the illusion of central position – the belief that my desires trump any and every other consideration – feeds directly into right wing mythology about individualism and self-reliance. It’s hard to reason with a 2-year-old that barely understands your language (those with 2-year-olds in their household will understand), but wants that new toy NOW.

    At both state and national levels, the illusion of central position has taken over, and the few grownups in the room don’t have enough leverage politically to counter self-indulgence of that scope and popularity. I’ve no idea how long this will continue to be the case, but for those who think in more adult, group welfare-oriented terms, the near future looks potentially pretty painful.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/13/2011 - 10:04 am.

    We’ve been up against the debt ceiling many times without catastrophe. Way back in 1995 we were up against it for more than four months without any problems. We can finesse the issue for some time. It’s obviously something that needs to be worked out eventually, but don’t fall for the doomsday predictions out there. My guess creditors are far more worried about long term deficits than they are on the short term mechanics that get us there.
    Just my $.02 but I’d guess that there will be some tax increases before we get this figured out but there will be more emphasis on the spending side. There just isn’t as much room for taxes to make up the deficit, especially if you restrict those taxes to people making $250k or more.

    I’m a little surprised at these poll numbers. If this is an accurate reflection of public opinion about gov’t spending, then the Dems will either have to change their plans rather quickly or see another wave election go against them in ’12.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/13/2011 - 04:12 pm.

    I’m unsurprised most people have no idea about the repercussions of not raising the debt ceiling, and it’s a shame Gallup based it’s definition of people who know about on whether people said they were following the issue, because I expect most of them are certain and wrong. Given how many people still don’t know the difference between debt and deficit, Gallup should have asked a factual question to determine who really understands it.

    I fear this is one of those situations where the media reporting on an issue either don’t understand it and just report the horserace, or they understand it and have no idea the audience doesn’t.

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