Poll: Most Americans Don’t Understand the Debt Ceiling

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds sharp divisions over the importance of raising the country’s borrowing limit.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on October 3, 2013 in New York City. With the nation approaching the deadline for raising the U.S. debt ceiling and the continued U.S. government shutdown, major indexes fell about 1% Thursday. The Dow was down 136.66, closing at 14,996.48. 
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Oct. 8, 2013, 5:41 p.m.

Amer­ic­ans broadly do not un­der­stand how the debt ceil­ing works, ac­cord­ing to the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

More than twice as many Amer­ic­ans be­lieve lift­ing the lim­it means au­thor­iz­ing more bor­row­ing “for fu­ture ex­pendit­ures” than be­lieve it means “pay­ing off the debts [the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment] has already ac­cu­mu­lated” — 62 per­cent to 28 per­cent, re­spect­ively.

The real­ity is that lift­ing the debt lim­it al­lows the Treas­ury De­part­ment to bor­row money to pay for bills that Con­gress has already rung up.

With less than 10 days un­til the na­tion hits its bor­row­ing lim­it, the poll found that the mis­un­der­stand­ing was rampant. It was shared by the young and the eld­erly, the rich and the poor, the col­lege edu­cated and those with only high schools edu­ca­tions.

Nearly three in four Re­pub­lic­ans, 73 per­cent, said the debt lim­it was for “fu­ture ex­pendit­ures,” but a ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats, 53 per­cent, also agreed. In­de­pend­ents, at 62 per­cent, fell in between the two ma­jor parties.

The con­fu­sion is one reas­on Pres­id­ent Obama has con­tin­ued to play pro­fess­or and try to ex­plain the law to Amer­ic­ans. “This is not rais­ing our debt,” Obama said Tues­day at a press con­fer­ence. “It does not add a dime to our debt.”

While Amer­ic­ans share in their mis­un­der­stand­ing of the debt lim­it, they are sharply di­vided along party lines over how big a deal it would be if Con­gress did not boost the bor­row­ing cap, the poll shows.

Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew has said the coun­try will run out of bor­row­ing ca­pa­city on Oct. 17. But a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans, 54 per­cent, ba­sic­ally shrug at the dead­line, say­ing it can pass without ma­jor eco­nom­ic con­sequences. Mean­while, most Demo­crats, 62 per­cent, and a nar­row­er plur­al­ity of in­de­pend­ents, 45 per­cent to 38 per­cent, say it is “ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial” to lift the debt lim­it. 

The di­vi­sion is re­flec­ted in the dead­locked Con­gress, where Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., de­clared on the Sen­ate floor Tues­day that “these ‘debt-ceil­ing den­iers’ need a dose of debt-ceil­ing real­ity.”

The prob­lem for Schu­mer is he’s not talk­ing about a small por­tion of the coun­try: 39 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said in the sur­vey that the United States can bust its bor­row­ing lim­it “without ma­jor eco­nom­ic prob­lems.” Only a nar­row plur­al­ity, 47 per­cent, sided with Schu­mer that it is “ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial” to avoid an eco­nom­ic crisis; 15 per­cent said they didn’t know what to make of the debt lim­it.

Most eco­nom­ists say that fail­ing to al­low the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to bor­row more money, which would even­tu­ally lead to de­fault­ing on bills, would ser­i­ously harm the eco­nomy. In the sum­mer of 2011, when Con­gress last flir­ted with al­low­ing the na­tion to breach the debt lim­it, the stock mar­ket took a dive and the eco­nomy slowed. The na­tion also lost its AAA cred­it rat­ing from Stand­ard & Poors for the first time.

The chal­lenge for the White House is that most Re­pub­lic­ans simply don’t trust the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sky-is-fall­ing warn­ings. Many GOP law­makers point out that the ad­min­is­tra­tion warned for months about the dev­ast­at­ing im­pact of the auto­mat­ic cut­backs in se­quest­ra­tion earli­er this year, but that those budget cuts were im­ple­men­ted with few im­me­di­ate and dra­mat­ic con­sequences.

Still, Pres­id­ent Obama is more trus­ted than con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans when it comes to hand­ling is­sues of debt and de­fi­cits.

A nar­row plur­al­ity of Amer­ic­ans, 45 per­cent, said they trus­ted him more than Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress, who were pre­ferred by 37 per­cent in the poll. Obama main­tained a nar­rowed 3-per­cent­age point ad­vant­age among crit­ic­al in­de­pend­ent voters.

Those who trust Obama more look very much like the co­ali­tion that elec­ted him: urb­an-dwell­ers (by a 23-point mar­gin), wo­men (who give him a 14-point edge, com­pared with men who were al­most evenly di­vided), minor­it­ies (65 per­cent trust Obama more), and the young (53 per­cent).

Among white Amer­ic­ans, it is the in­verse: 44 per­cent trust con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans more, com­pared with 36 per­cent for Obama. Obama is still more trus­ted by a ma­jor­ity of one key group of whites: 53 per­cent of col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men picked him over the con­gres­sion­al GOP. Among those who trust Obama the least are white men,  who aren’t col­lege edu­cated, only 31 per­cent of whom picked Obama over Re­pub­lic­ans.

Those same white men without col­lege de­grees were among the most skep­tic­al that breach­ing the debt lim­it would res­ult in ser­i­ous eco­nom­ic harm. Only 35 per­cent be­lieved that.

Over­all, con­cerns about the eco­nom­ic sever­ity of not rais­ing the debt lim­it grew with the sur­vey re­spond­ents’ level of edu­ca­tion. A ma­jor­ity of col­lege gradu­ates (52 per­cent to 32 per­cent) said it was “es­sen­tial” to lift it, com­pared with a plur­al­ity of those with some col­lege (47 per­cent to 41 per­cent) and a very nar­row plur­al­ity with­in the mar­gin of er­ror (43 per­cent to 41 per­cent) among those with a high school edu­ca­tion or less.

The cur­rent in­stall­ment of the United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll was con­duc­ted, in Eng­lish, between Oct. 3 and Oct. 6 by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al. The poll sur­veyed 1,000 adults, half via cell phone, and car­ries a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.7 per­cent­age points. Sub­groups have great­er mar­gins of er­ror.

What We're Following See More »
CONTRACTS MAY NOT BE RENEWED
Senate Contractors Short Cafeteria Workers by $1 Million
9 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"The Labor Department announced Tuesday that federal contractors had shorted 674 Senate cafeteria workers to the tune of $1 million. Two companies, Restaurant Associates and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus, violated the law by misclassifying workers into lower-paying positions and having them work off the clock, the agency said." The department is looking into whether to renew the contracts.

Source:
ASSANGE WANTS TO CRIPPLE CLINTON’S CHANCES
Spy Agencies Hone in on Russia as Culprit of DNC Hack
21 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have 'high confidence' that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence. But intelligence agencies have cautioned that they are uncertain whether the electronic break-in at the committee's computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyberespionage—of the kind the United States also conducts around the world—or as part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election." WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange "has made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency."

Source:
FOUNDER PRAISED TRUMP AT CONVENTION
Colony Capital Pulled Out of Trump Hotel
32 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Colony Capital Founder Tom Barrack spoke on Donald Trump's behalf at the Democratic National Convention last week. But as the Washington Post learned, his company pulled out of Trump's Old Post Office project. The two companies issued a joint statement when the project was announced. But as a Colony spokeswoman told the Post, “Colony exited the joint venture after the project’s timeline became too long for the firm. As the project evolved, cheaper sources of capital for longer term investment became available to Trump." The Trump Organization is now financing the project through their own cash and a loan from Deutsche Bank. It's scheduled to open Sept. 12.

Source:
MAN WHO SHOT RONALD REAGAN
John Hinckley Jr. Granted Release
41 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Thirty-five years after he tried to kill President Reagan, John Hinckley Jr. has been freed. "A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has granted a request for Hinckley to leave the mental hospital where he's lived for decades, to go live full-time with his elderly mother in Williamsburg, VA. The release could happen as early as next week, the judge ruled. Under the terms of his order, Hinckley is not allowed to contact his victims, their relatives or actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. Hinckley also will not be permitted to 'knowingly travel' to areas where the current president or members or Congress are present. The judge said Hinckley could be allowed to live on his own or in a group home after one year.

Source:
SHARES THEIR LOVE STORY
Bill Clinton Gets Personal in Convention Speech
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” started Bill Clinton. In his speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton brought a personal touch, telling parallel stories of his relationship with Hillary Clinton and the work she has done throughout her career. He lauded the Democratic nominee for her career of work, touching on her earliest days of advocacy for children and those with disabilities while in law school, her role as Secretary of State, and her work in raising their daughter, Chelsea. Providing a number of anecdotes throughout the speech, Clinton built to a crescendo, imploring the audience to support his wife for president. "You should elect her, she'll never quit when the going gets tough," he said. "Your children and grandchildren will be grateful."

×