The Washington Post

Post-ABC poll: GOP too dug in on debt talks; public fears default consequences

Majorities of Americans see both President Obama and congressional Republicans as not willing enough to compromise in their budget negotiations, but the public views the GOP leaders as particularly intransigent, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There is also growing dissatisfaction among Republicans with the hard-line stance of their congressional representatives: Fifty-eight percent say their leaders are not doing enough to strike a deal, up from 42 percent in March.

While Republicans in Congress have remained united in their opposition to any tax increases, the poll finds GOP majorities favoring some of the specific changes advocated by the president, including higher income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

There is also broad dissatisfaction with Obama’s unwillingness to reach across the aisle: Nearly six in 10 of those polled say the president has not been open enough to compromise. Among independents, 79 percent say Republicans aren’t willing enough to make a deal, while 62 percent say the same of Obama.

Republicans may also be losing the war of perception about who stands with whom in the debates over the deficit and the economy. A majority view the president as more committed to protecting the interests of the middle class and small businesses, while large majorities see Republicans as defending the economic interests of big corporations and Wall Street financial institutions.

If there were an economic breakdown, neither side would escape blame. Forty-two percent say they would mostly hold the GOP responsible, and 36 percent say Obama would be at fault. But Republicans in Congress are also under increasing pressure from their own partisans.

Although some Republican lawmakers have cast doubt on the seriousness of the Aug. 2 deadline, majorities across party lines in the poll predict dire economic consequences if the two sides fail to extend the government’s borrowing power and a default results.

The sputtering negotiations and rhetorical standoffs have further damaged the image of Washington in the eyes of the public. Fully 80 percent are now “dissatisfied” or “angry” about the way the federal government is working, rising 11 percentage points from June to the highest level in polls going back to the early 1990s. The sharp increase in dissatisfaction with the government coincides with the fractious deficit negotiations and a clear hardening along party lines in Congress.

In a sign of the potential political consequences of the public’s discontent, 63 percent of all Americans say they are inclined to look around for new representatives in the 2012 elections, the highest on record in Post-ABC polls.

Hope, but also concern

Overall, a 54 percent majority say the president and Congress are likely to reach an agreement to raise the debt ceiling by the August deadline. But there is clear concern that neither side is willing to budge.

More than three-quarters of Americans say the Republican leadership is too averse to compromise on the deficit. Even among Republicans, 58 percent see the GOP as too resistant to a deal, up from 42 percent in March.

In the new poll, fully 50 percent of conservative Republicans and “strong” tea party supporters say the GOP leadership is too unwilling to make a deal on the deficit. But in other areas, the views of GOP leaders are more in sync with those of strong tea party supporters than those of the rest of the party faithful. That is the case on raising taxes on the wealthy, for example, where opposition from strong tea party supporters is 20 percentage points higher than among all Republicans.

Democrats, on the other hand, appear worried that Obama is too prepared to give in to Republicans. Exactly half of all Democrats say the president is “too willing” to compromise.

Most Democrats oppose increasing the age for Medicare eligibility and changing how Social Security benefits are calculated, two major changes that Obama has suggested could be part of a “grand bargain” aimed at overcoming the debt-limit impasse.

Majorities of Democrats and Republicans in the poll agree on other items considered for a potential deal — raising taxes on high-wage earners and on oil and gas companies.

Republicans split on taxes

GOP leaders have said repeatedly that they oppose the inclusion of any new taxes in an agreement, in part because their rank and file is strongly resistant to them. But the Post-ABC News poll shows a Republican Party clearly divided on that question.

Overall, more than six in 10 Americans say a plan to reduce the deficit should include a combination of spending cuts and new taxes, rather than exclusively one or the other. Big majorities of Democrats and independents and nearly half of all Republicans support the mixed approach.

But the GOP argument that spending cuts create jobs has advanced a bit since March. Nearly half of all Americans say big cuts in federal spending would spur new jobs, a six-point increase. But a similar 44 percent see such cuts as more apt to slice the number of jobs.

Although Obama appears to be on more solid ground than Republicans in terms of public opinion on these issues, he has clear political vulnerabilities. His overall approval rating remains below the 50 percent mark and, at 47 percent, is one point from a career low in Post-ABC polling.

Fifty-seven percent of all Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy, and 60 percent give him negative marks on the deficit. Those who “strongly disapprove” of how he is dealing with each of these issues outnumber those who either “strongly” or “somewhat” approve.

But the GOP is doing worse in these areas: Sixty-seven percent of Americans disapprove of the way congressional Republicans are handling the economy, and 68 percent give them low marks when it comes to the deficit.

Who cares more?

On other measures, the president comes out ahead of Republicans: By 47 percent to 37 percent, Americans say Obama cares more about protecting their own families’ economic interests than do the Republicans. By an almost identical margin, the president is seen as caring more about the economic interests of small businesses, which Republicans long have championed as part of their core coalition.

More than eight in 10 — including 80 percent of Republicans — say there would be serious harm to the U.S. economy if the government could not continue to borrow money to fund its operations and pay its debts after Aug. 2.

Nearly as many — more than three-quarters — say the financial reputation of the United States would be severely undermined if the government’s borrowing power dried up. Six in 10 say such an event would deeply hurt their own financial situations.

Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill and polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent.

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