As talks between Republican and Democratic leaders lumber on in Washington, the American public sees an economic crisis looming if Congress is unable to raise the country's debt ceiling. But the people seem just as conflicted on the issue as their elected representatives.
An Associated Press-GfK poll released last week highlights the apparent conflict in public opinion. Six in 10 said that if no deal is reached and the U.S. defaults on its debts, a major economic crisis was likely. Yet only half as many, 30 percent, said they supported raising the debt limit to avoid such a default.
There is a connection between the two questions. Those who said an economic crisis was "extremely likely" if the U.S. defaulted were most apt to say they backed an increase in the debt limit — 40 percent said they would support raising it and 17 percent said they opposed an increase in the debt limit to avoid default, while 42 percent were neutral. Similarly, those who said a crisis was unlikely were more apt to oppose raising the federal debt limit — 47 percent opposed it, 16 percent supported it and 37 percent were neutral.
The common thread? All those neutral views. On this deeply complex issue, a lot of people are just not sure what to do, regardless of how big a crisis they see in the distance. All told, nearly half of Americans say they neither support nor oppose raising the federal debt limit in order to avoid defaulting on U.S. government debts.
The plurality choosing a neutral position could reflect a public that hasn't yet sorted through the implications of such a policy change. Or it could reflect a lack of knowledge on the issue or simply a lack of strong feelings about it.
A CBS News poll conducted in early October found 77 percent of Americans would rather see an agreement on the debt ceiling that they didn't fully support than have Congress not reach an agreement and see the U.S. default on its debts.
A separate question in the AP-GfK poll prompted a similar response: Just 10 percent said they thought Congress should avoid increasing the debt ceiling under any circumstances, while 41 percent would support an increase if it is made at the same time as significant spending cuts, and 44 percent would support an increase with a separate debate on spending and deficits.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 3-7 and involved online interviews with 1,227 adults. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.
The survey used GfK's KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed for this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't have online access were given that access at no cost to them.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ Digits is Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta's take on the numbers that reflect our world and the survey research techniques used to find them.