September 18, 2013

If we are going to have a debt ceiling and default crisis — with all of the havoc it may well entail — it may well be because Republican voters want such a crisis, even if it causes serious economic harm.

No, really. That’s what a new poll shows.

The new Washington Post/ABC News poll on the debt ceiling tells us something remarkable: Among Republicans who believe that not raising the debt ceiling would cause serious harm to the economy, a majority of them wants Congress not to raise it anyway. By contrast, Americans overall see it in the opposite way.

This is a complicated one, but it’s worth it. The new WaPo poll asks two questions on the debt limit. It finds that 46 percent of Americans want Congress to raise the debt limit “so the government can keep paying its bills and obligations,” while 43 percent want Congress “not to raise the debt limit and let the government default on paying its bills and obligations.”

That’s roughly an even split; the debt limit tends to poll that way.

Meanwhile, the poll also finds that 73 percent think not raising the debt limit would “cause serious harm to the U.S. economy,” versus only 22 percent who say it wouldn’t. How to explain the divergence? It turns out it’s largely driven by Republicans.

I asked the Post polling team for a breakdown. Here’s the upshot:

* Republicans are far more likely to oppose raising the debt limit than anyone else; they say don’t raise it by 61-25. By contrast, Dems say raise it by 62-31, and independents split by 48-46 on raising versus not raising it.

* Republicans, however, also believe overwhelmingly that not raising it would cause serious economic harm — by 66-27. (Dems and indys tilt the same way.)

* How to square that? Simple: Among Republicans who believe not raising it would cause serious economic harm, a majority say don’t raise it by 53-32.

By contrast, among Americans overall who say not raising it would cause serious harm, they tilt in favor of raising it by 54-35. Independents who say not raising it would cause serious harm also tilt in favor of raising it by 58-36.

And there it is: Republicans want Congress not to raise the debt ceiling, even if it would cause widespread economic harm.

I don’t really know how to explain this. Perhaps it’s confusion about the debt limit (not raising it, of course, would only cause default on debts already incurred), or maybe it’s an expression of generalized hostility towards something Obama wants. Or perhaps it’s that Republican lawmakers have been telling these voters for years now that spending under Obama is the leading threat to the survival of American civilization (even though the deficit is falling and there just isn’t any near term crisis to speak of), and that standing up to Obama in these epic spending confrontations is the only way to arrest the republic’s slide into total ruin. Apocalyptic intervention is required to salvage what’s left of our country, no matter how much harm it causes in the process.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.