A majority of Americans want to see the debt ceiling raised, but Republicans and tea party supporters feel otherwise, according to a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday.
Respondents were told:
As you may know, there is a limit to the amount of money the government can owe that is sometimes called the "debt ceiling." In addition to the current debate over a possible government shutdown, Congress must also deal with the debt ceiling in the next few weeks. The Secretary of the Treasury says that the government will not have enough money to pay all of its debts and keep all existing government programs running unless Congress raises the debt ceiling by the middle of October.
Fifty-six percent said they would consider failing to raise the debt ceiling a bad thing for the country, while 38 percent said it would be a good thing.
Republicans were the most likely to say a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be positive, with 52 percent calling it a good thing. That tilt was even more pronounced among tea party supporters, 64 percent of whom saw no benefit to hiking the ceiling.
Independents were nearly evenly split, while just 18 percent of Democrats thought not raising the debt ceiling would be a good thing.
The partisan split was also evident when the debt ceiling was weighed against Obamacare. Just over half of Americans said it was more important for Congress to raise the debt ceiling in order to make sure the government has enough money to pay its debts, while 43 percent said it was more important to delay the health care law. But 71 percent of Democrats said raising the debt ceiling took precedence, while 61 percent of Republicans prioritized delaying health care implementation. Independents were again split down the middle, with 45 percent placing more importance on a debt ceiling hike and 49 percent choosing an Obamacare delay.
"You have bipartisan consensus among economists that not raising the debt ceiling would be a disaster, but politically you have a divide. Yes, more people say raise the debt ceiling and fight the health care debate somewhere else, but you have Republican lawmakers going home, most of them to safe Republican districts. And they're being told by many of their constituents not to worry about it, you don't have to raise the debt ceiling," CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King said.
Fifty-three percent of Americans said congressional Republicans would be more to blame if the debt ceiling were not raised, while 31 percent said they'd mostly point the finger at President Barack Obama -- nearly the same division of opinion that was found during the debt ceiling showdown of July 2011.
As The Washington Post noted in September, polling on the debt ceiling can be difficult because most Americans pay little attention to the issue. In 2011, polling by NBC and The Wall Street Journal found that support for raising the debt ceiling rose dramatically after the deep consequences of defaulting reached the public's attention.
Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein argues that polling on who will bear the blame should also be taken with a grain of salt. "Mostly, asking people to predict how they'll react to possible future political stories is just a waste of time," Bernstein wrote. "People aren't very good at understanding why they have the opinions they currently have; they're usually in no position to predict their future reactions. That goes double, of course, for something which they have very little knowledge about in the first place."
The CNN/ORC poll surveyed 803 adults by phone between Sept. 27 and Sept. 29.