July 18, 2011

Public Split Evenly on Urgency of Debt Limit Debate

Overview

While administration officials project an economic catastrophe if the debt limit is not raised by Aug. 2, many Americans do not see this deadline as a major problem. Four-in-ten (40%) say that, from what they’ve read and heard, it is absolutely essential that the federal debt limit be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid an economic crisis, while about as many (39%) say the country can go past this date without major economic problems.

By a 53% to 30% margin, most Republicans say that it will not be a major problem if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2. The balance of opinion is the reverse among Democrats: 56% say it is absolutely essential to meet that deadline to avoid an economic crisis, 28% say it is not. Independents are more divided, though a slim 43% plurality say the country can go past Aug. 2 without major economic problems, while 32% say it is essential to raise the debt limit by this date.

The new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 15-17 among 764 adults, finds that Tea Party Republicans are by far the most unconvinced about the potential fallout from going past the Aug. 2 deadline. Fully 65% of Republicans and Republican leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party see no major problems if this occurs, compared with 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party.

Notably, the degree of attention to this issue has only a modest relationship with peoples’ impressions of the seriousness of the Aug. 2 deadline.  Those who are following the issue very closely are divided over whether it is essential to raise the debt limit by Aug. 2 to avoid crisis – 45% say it is essential, 41% say it is not. Those who are following the story less closely also are divided.

Most Republicans and GOP leaning independents (59%) who have been following the issue very or fairly closely say the country can go past Aug. 2 without major problems; about the same percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaners (61%) who have been following this issue very or fairly closely say it would be a major crisis.