Americans Divided About Raising Debt Limit

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June 9, 2011

In a recent Washington Post article, Lori Montgomery and Jon Cohen report that a majority of Americans believe the economy would suffer serious harm if Congress does not grant the government more borrowing authority. Yet, the authors note that “barely half support raising the government’s debt limit, even if lawmakers also sharply cut spending.”  From the article:

A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 55 percent of Democrats and half of Republicans and independents support a debt-limit deal that includes a steep reduction in the size of government. But 37 percent of Republicans, a third of independents and nearly a fifth of Democrats say they are against raising the debt limit, under any circumstances.

Though the public is generally ambivalent about bipartisan efforts at compromise, Montgomery and Cohen write that the financial markets are watching closely, “with investors worried that the world’s largest economy could fail to pay its bills for the first time in U.S. history.”  Fitch Ratings became the third major credit rating agency to threaten to downgrade the United States’ AAA rating if it were to miss scheduled payments.  The authors contend that though people believe these warnings, “large blocs — particularly among Republicans and independents — still do not like the idea of permitting the national debt to continue its upward spiral.”

Students could use the questions in the graphic above to conduct their own classroom poll about the budget deficit and national debt.  They could then compare their results to the national poll and discuss the similarities and differences in their answers.

The teacher could lead the class in a discussion guided by the following questions:  What might affect the level of trust that Americans have in one party or the other?  What accounts for the large percentage of Americans who believe that failure to raise the debt ceiling would be harmful to the economy, and the smaller percentage of Americans who would actually support such an increase?  How should politicians respond to these results?  Students should be encouraged to follow the ongoing debate about this issue, and note what (if any) influence these poll numbers have on the discussion.

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