The effort to raise America's debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown is Topic A in Washington this muggy week in July, but the issue probably won't loom large in the 2012 presidential election, says one influential pollster.
In frequent polling of Americans about their most important problems, "there is still relatively low mention of the debt and the deficit on the part of the American public. It’s the economy and jobs which are the major issue," Mr. Newport told a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Tuesday. "I still don't see the debt issue as a major campaign theme," he concludes.
It's hard to know whether such reports make members of Congress up for reelection next year breathe any easier about upcoming votes to deal with the looming debt-ceiling crisis. Republican lawmakers, especially, are worried about primary challenges from their right, as conservative advocacy groups seek to hold them to promises to seek spending cuts and to vote against any deal that includes tax hikes or new revenues for government.
Still, a solid majority of Americans want elected officials to compromise to reach a deal to raise the national debt ceiling, which is currently set at $14.3 trillion, the USA Today/Gallup Poll out this week found. Two-thirds favored compromise, versus 27 percent who want members of Congress who share their views on the debt and budget deficit to hold out for their desired plan, the Gallup survey found. A majority of Americans of each political stripe – Republicans, independents, and Democrats – favor a compromise.
The same survey showed that Americans, by a 20-point margin, are more worried that the government would raise the debt ceiling without plans for major spending cuts than that it would not raise the ceiling and an economic crisis would ensue. The survey was conducted July 15-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Data continually show on average that the public "is not sympathetic" to those who do not want to compromise on raising the debt ceiling, Newport said at the breakfast meeting. Republican freshman members of the House of Representatives have generally resisted compromising on raising the debt ceiling, seeking large cuts in spending and no new tax revenues as a means to bring down the deficit. Newport said those polled "think people are sent off to Washington to compromise."
The state of the economy is a key variable in how long voters will remember or care about the debt-ceiling debate, says Newport.
"If the economy as ... perceived by the American public is doing much better next year, then a lot of things will be forgotten and or forgiven," he says. His assessment that the debt ceiling debate will not loom large in the 2012 election could change, Newport cautions, "If the economy springs back or tanks and it can be blamed on the debt and deficit."