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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 04:00 PM ET, 07/11/2011

Shifting public concerns in debt limit debate

There is deepening public concern about the debt negotiations as the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the limit on government borrowing approaches, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.

The number of Americans who are “very concerned” about an economy-hurting default has ticked higher since late May, but a slim majority is also now highly worried that lifting the debt limit will simply spur more spending and ever higher debt.

The twin, divergent, concerns complicate the political calculus for the White House and congressional leaders as they attempt to strike an agreement. Nearly eight in 10 Americans are worried about raising the debt limit, and about three-quarters are concerned about not doing so.

Asked to choose, 42 percent see greater risk in a potential default stemming from not raising the debt limit, a seven-point increase from a Post-Pew poll six weeks ago. Slightly more, 47 percent, express deeper concern about lifting the limit, but the gap has narrowed.

Views on the issue remain hardened along partisan lines, with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents increasingly concerned about the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling.

In the new poll, fully 66 percent of all Republicans are more concerned with raising the debt limit, a sentiment that rises to 75 percent among those who agree with the tenets of the tea party political movement.

By contrast, most Democrats, 54 percent, see not raising the debt limit as the primary concern. Among liberal Democrats, the number jumps to 62 percent.

In late May, independents sided more with the GOP concerns, but it is about evenly split: 46 percent of political independents are mainly concerned with raising the debt ceiling; 45 percent with not doing so.

One thing that’s little changed from late May is widespread uncertainty with what would happen if the government’s debt limit is not raised: Now, as then, just 18 percent say they understand the consequences “very well.”


The telephone poll was conducted July 7 to 10, among a random national sample of 1,007 adults. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Read the full poll results

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By  |  04:00 PM ET, 07/11/2011

 
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