New Polls on Debt Ceiling Show Ground Shifting

The basic structure of the debt-ceiling debate has always been advantageous for Republicans. It's abstract, which is good for them (they win when debates about government are abstract, but lose when they're specific -- "cutting spending" is popular, "cutting Medicare" is not). It features gridlock and bickering, which seems to validate all their complaints about government; as the party of government, Democrats end up being punished even for Republican failures and obstruction. That enables Republicans to throw sand in the gears, then say, "See, we told you -- Washington can't get anything done." And from the outset, President Obama accepted the Republican position that cutting the deficit is an urgent priority, more urgent than creating jobs, and that the main way to do it is by slashing spending.

But some new polls out today suggest that public opinion may be moving a bit more in Democrats' favor. First there's a CBS poll showing that support for increasing the ceiling has almost doubled, and respondents are now evenly split on the question. That suggests that Americans are beginning to understand that bad things will happen if the ceiling isn't increased, which is validated by a Gallup poll showing 56 percent saying an economic crisis will result if the ceiling isn't raised. And here's the most interesting result from the Gallup poll:

Gallup debt 7-17.jpg

Even Republicans here say they want a compromise, which is surprising. But it does seem that through sheer repetition, the Democrats' arguments are beginning to get through. They've spread the idea that there's a potential catastrophe looming, and that they're being reasonable while Republicans are being unreasonable. It helps that those two things happen to be true, so there's a good deal of third-party validation around to buttress those ideas, from economists and other kinds of commentators.

The result of all this is that the substance of a deal on the debt ceiling may be good or bad -- OK, it'll probably either be bad, or worse -- but the politics are likely to be a wash, or nearly so. Obama will get some slight reinforcement of the idea that he's the adult who wants compromise while congressional Republicans are intransigent infants, but on the whole, this will not have changed much about how the average American views the two parties.

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