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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 01:24 PM ET, 05/16/2011

Poll Watchers: Public attitudes about the debt ceiling, the value of college, economy as the top problem and accepting homosexuality

• Debt ceiling — The U.S. government is about to max out its credit, prompting a likely vote in Congress to raise the debt ceiling, now set at more than $14 trillion. Several recent national polls find that the public is resistant to extending more credit but aware that not doing so could have great consequences. In a Gallup poll last week, a 47 percent plurality would want their member of Congress to vote against raising the debt ceiling, compared with 19 percent who would favor it and 34 percent unsure.

A CNN poll from early May provided more detail in its question about the debt ceiling than did Gallup. It found more people in opposition than in favor of raising it, 60 to 37 percent, with fewer undecided than Gallup. Both polls found wide partisan gaps; at least seven in 10 Republicans reject expanding it, while Democrats favor it in a more narrow way. Independents reject it in both polls, though not as widely as do Republicans.

The new Gallup and CNN results are similar to an early April NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, in which 46 percent rejected raising the debt ceiling,16 percent said we should and 38 percent were unsure. When provided balanced reasons for and against raising the ceiling, the percentages against and for it moved to 62 and 32 percent.

Despite the desire not to raise the debt ceiling, the public sees potential problems if that is not done. In the CNN poll, 58 percent say there would be a crisis or major problems if it isn’t raised. A similar 56 percent said not raising it would be “disastrous to the U.S. economy,” in a new Battleground poll from George Washington University and Politico.

• Value of a college degree — A new report from the Pew Research Center released Sunday gauges the value of a college degree, both from the public perspective and from a random sample of college presidents. A 57 percent majority of the public rates as poor or fair the job that colleges are doing providing “value for the money spent by students” on higher education. But a wide 76 percent of college presidents judge that value to be excellent or good. Among college graduates, 86 percent say a degree has been a good personal investment.

• Economy the top concern — This month, 35 percent say the economy generally is the top problem facing the nation in Gallup’s monthly tracking of this question, up from 26 percent last month. The number citing the federal budget deficit dropped from a 15-year high point of 17 percent in April to 12 percent now. Taken together, 74 percent mention some economic-related problem, including unemployment, gas prices or other mentions — the highest combined result in two years.

• Homosexuality in society — By a widening margin, 58 to 33 percent, people say homosexuality should be accepted by society rather than discouraged, in the Pew Research Center’s Political Typology report. For the past decade, the number wanting greater acceptance has hovered around half.

In another example of changing attitudes toward homosexuality, fewer people now say that gay and lesbian couples raising children is a bad thing for society, down to 35 percent from 43 percent in October. Fewer, just 14 percent, say it is a good thing, while a growing number — 48 percent — say it doesn’t make much difference. On both of these issues, people under age 30 are more apt than older people to want greater acceptance.

By  |  01:24 PM ET, 05/16/2011

Categories:  Economy

 
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