Additional Research

Independents Express Concern Over Raising Debt Ceiling, Believe Super Committee Will Not Cut Enough Spending

September 7, 2011

Resurgent Republic conducted a survey of 1000 American voters August 28-31, 2011, with full results available here. Following are the key highlights pertaining to Independents and fiscal issues:

1. In assigning blame for the S&P downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, Democrats blame Republicans, Republicans blame Democrats, and Independents blame everyone. Three-fourths of American voters think the downgrade is a very (40 percent) or somewhat (38 percent) serious problem for the country's financial situation. Voters split their assignment of blame between Republican-aligned groups (21 percent Republicans in Congress and 9 percent Tea Party) and Democratic groups (16 percent Democrats in Congress and 12 percent President Obama). Independents split blame almost evenly between all or a combination (26 percent), Republican groups (17 percent Republicans in Congress and 8 percent Tea Party), and Democrats (16 percent Democrats in Congress and 8 percent President Obama).

When asked a two-part question giving arguments for blaming "Tea-Party Republicans" or "the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress," voters overall blame Tea-Party Republicans by a slim 45 to 43 percent margin, with Independents blaming President Obama and Democrats by a 42 to 39 percent margin.

2. By a margin of 46 to 38 percent, voters think raising the debt ceiling in exchange for substantial spending cuts was a bad rather than a good thing. Democrats think it was a good thing by a 51 to 31 percent margin, Republicans think it was a bad thing by a 66 to 25 percent margin, and Independents are split with 45 percent saying it was a bad thing and 40 percent saying it was a good thing. Given these patterns, the problem appears to be concern about raising the debt ceiling itself rather than concern about spending cuts.

3. The more serious a problem voters think the S&P credit downgrade is for the country, the more likely they are to believe that raising the credit limit was a bad thing. Voters who think the downgrade is very serious believe raising the debt ceiling is a bad thing by 58 to 30 percent. Voters who think the downgrade was somewhat serious split evenly on raising the debt ceiling, 42 percent bad thing/41 percent good thing. On the other hand, voters who think the downgrade is not that serious think raising the debt ceiling was a good thing by 56 to 30 percent.

Voters who think the downgrade is very serious but think raising the debt ceiling was a bad thing are largely people who believe the Tea Party movement has had a positive impact. This is an indication of the depth of cynicism toward Washington and fiscal "experts" that we have seen in our focus groups with Tea-Party supporters. They simply don’t believe that Washington cannot stop spending enough to stop borrowing. Nor do they believe the apocalyptic predictions of fiscal experts about the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, any more than they believed that the financial system would collapse unless the government bailed out Wall Street with TARP in 2008.

4. Far more Americans are concerned that the super committee charged with getting our fiscal house in order will make too few rather than too many spending cuts. Large majorities of Republicans and Independents worry that the committee will cut too little (72 to 19 percent among Republicans and 55 to 31 percent among Independents); only Democrats are worried that it will cut too much (56 to 31 percent).

5. The debt ceiling debate over the summer appears to have hurt both parties. The favorable/unfavorable rating of congressional Republicans has moved from 45/42 in January of 2011 to 45/46 in April to 40/50 today. Congressional Democrats moved from 45/46 in January to 47/45 in April to 42/48 today.

6. Independents, who had rated congressional Republicans significantly better than congressional Democrats in January, now rate both parties equally poorly. Among Independent voters, the favorable/unfavorable rating of congressional Republicans has moved from 44/40 in January to 43/47 in April to 36/49 today. Independents rated congressional Democrats 31/56 in January, 39/50 in April, and 35/51 today.

7. Independents think more like Democrats than Republicans on the need for new revenue as part of the solution to the debt problem. Voters overall agree with language that emphasizes a "balanced approach" including eliminating "tax breaks and special deductions" by a 53 to 43 percent margin, including a 52 to 45 percent margin among Independents and a 76 to 20 percent margin among Democrats. Republicans prefer spending cuts alone by a 71 to 27 percent margin.

8. BUT, two-thirds of American voters think 20 percent or less is the maximum tax rate the federal government should take from anyone's income, with remarkable consistency by party. Sixty-five percent of voters say the maximum tax rate should be 20 percent or less, including 71 percent among Republicans, 62 percent among Independents, and 63 percent among Democrats. Just 7 percent of voters say the top tax rate should be 40 percent or higher, including just 11 percent of Democrats.

9. Independents think more like Republicans than Democrats on the desirability of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. By a margin of 57 to 36 percent, voters overall think a balanced budget amendment is a good idea, with large majorities of Republicans and Independents supporting the idea (75/21 among Republicans and 59/33 among Independents). Only Democrats think it is a bad idea (53/39 percent).

10. Voters are more likely to support making adjustments to Social Security if the rationale is saving the program for future generations than if it is to help balance the budget. Whenever entitlement reform is discussed in the context of getting the deficit under control, a majority of voters says Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be off limits (56 to 38 percent, including 51 to 43 percent among Independents). But when framed in the context of saving those programs for future generations, a majority is willing to make adjustments (53 to 40 percent, including 61 to 34 percent among Independents). Those who advocate entitlement reform are better off making the case that such reforms will save those popular programs for the future.

Read the full report: President Obama In Deep Trouble As He Delivers Joint Session Speech

Filed under: Independent Voters, Polling Analysis, and Spending And Debt