May 24, 2011

More Concern about Raising Debt Limit than Government Default

The public is concerned about both of the possible outcomes of the debt limit debate – raising the debt limit and failing to do so. But more say they are very concerned about the possible consequences of raising the debt limit than of not raising it.

And by a 48% to 35% margin, Americans say their greater concern is that raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending and a larger national debt than that not raising the limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation’s economy.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post, conducted May 19-22 among 1,004 adults, finds that by more than two-to-one (60% to 25%), Republicans say their greater concern is that raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger.

Independents, by 49% to 34%, also say their bigger concern is that raising the debt limit would lead to more spending and more debt. Nearly half of Democrats (48%) say their greater concern is that not raising the debt limit would lead to a government default, but 38% say they are more concerned that raising the debt limit would lead to higher spending.

So far, the debate over raising the debt limit has not registered widely with the public: 25% say they have heard lot about the debate, 38% a little and 37% nothing at all. Half of Americans (50%) say they feel like they understand the possible implications of not raising the debt limit very well (18%) or fairly well (32%), though nearly as many (47%) say they do not have a good understanding of what would happen if the debt limit is not raised.

People who feel like they have at least a fairly good understanding of the consequences of not raising the debt limit say their greater concern is that raising the limit would lead to higher government spending, by a 52% vs. 37% margin. The balance of opinion is similar among those who do not feel they understand what would happen if the government does not raise the debt limit (45% vs. 34%).

Similarly, there are only modest differences in concerns between those who have heard a lot about the debt limit debate and those who have heard less about the debate.

Notably, comparable percentages of Republicans (55%), Democrats (50%) and independents (47%) feel like they have at least a fairly good understanding of what would happen if the government does not raise the debt limit. There also are no significant partisan differences in attentiveness to the debt limit debate.

Republican Concerns More Intense

Large majorities say they are either very or somewhat concerned that raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending, and that not raising the limit would lead to a government default (77%, 73% respectively). Just 20% say they are not too concerned or not at all concerned about raising the debt limit; about the same percentage (23%) expresses little or no concern about not raising it.

But while 47% say they are very concerned that raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending, 37% say they are very concerned that not raising the limit would lead to a government default.

About six-in-ten Republicans (61%) say they are very concerned that raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending and more debt. By contrast, fewer Democrats (48%) say they are very concerned that not raising the limit would lead to a government default. In fact, about as many Democrats are very concerned about the impact of raising the debt limit as not raising it (40% vs. 48%).