Understanding Debt Ceiling Attitudes

While President Obama claims that 80% of Americans want to see their taxes increased to address the Federal deficit, Congress continues to debate raising the debt ceiling and we close in on the highly publicized August 2nd deadline to avoid a government default, there are several points that need to be made to keep claims of public support in context.

First, significant numbers of Americans aren’t convinced this whole issue is really a big deal and they don’t trust the people telling them it will be a disaster. Only 12% have confidence in what Congress says, 19% in big business, 23% in banks, and 27% and 28% in what they hear from TV and print media outlets.

Second, to a lot of people who share the sentiments of the Tea Party this sounds a lot like the same groups of people who gave us Wall Street banks, car companies, big businesses, and state governments looting the treasury now threatening us with dire consequences if we don’t let them do it again.

It is a hard sell to convince these individuals that the Federal Government should be allowed to borrow yet more money when they believe so much money has already been wasted.

This has led to Americans being split on the issue. Despite the drumbeat of messaging from the Administration, Wall Street, and the press, 46% of Americans say the debt ceiling should be raised and 49% say it should not.

Lastly, there is a lot of evidence out there showing that August 2nd, much like the deadlines floated previously, is artificial. The more Republicans in Congress become convinced this is true, the more they are sure that it’s just a way for the President to force an increase without addressing spending or the deficit.

Furthermore, American voters tend to agree with this point of view. A recent CBS news poll showed that a majority of Americans (51%) say the US probably wouldn’t default on its debt if the ceiling weren’t raised.

There are also a small, but important, number of voters and legislators who believe that the end-game of not raising the debt ceiling is a partial government shut-down rather than a default.

If that’s true, it gives Libertarian and Tea Party-leaning voters and officials what they’ve wanted all along and they’re not eager to compromise if all that happens is an immediate and massive spending cut.