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For now, polling favors Obama in debt debate

July 14, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama conducts a meeting with congressional leadership on deficit reduction in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday. To his right is House Speaker John A. Boehner, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to his left.
President Obama conducts a meeting with congressional leadership on deficit… (Jason Reed, Reuters )

As Americans more closely monitor the negotiations in Washington over the debt ceiling, new polling suggests that President Obama may have a narrow advantage over Republicans in the debate over spending and taxes, though it may be fleeting.

A new Quinnipiac survey released Thursday showed that, 48%-34%, voters would blame Republicans instead of Obama if the debt limit is not raised and the nation defaults. Voters also support his call for a "balanced package" that includes both new revenues and spending cuts.

The president's approval rating has remained remarkably stable even in the high-profile dispute with Republicans. Quinnipiac found 47% of voters approved of his performance, unchanged from a June survey and up slightly from his pre-Bin Laden showing.

Meanwhile the approval rating for congressional Republicans dropped to 26%, lowest since the party assumed majority status in January, and now below the similarly poor rating for their Democratic counterparts.

"The American people aren't very happy about their leaders, but President Obama is viewed as the best of the worst, especially when it comes to the economy," Quinnipiac's Peter Brown said.

Only 38% approve of how Obama is handling the economy, and 33% approve of his handling of the budget deficit. But 45-38%, voters trust Obama more than Republicans in Congress to handle the economy.

The survey was conducted from July 5-11. Obama has since continued to use the presidential bully pulpit to press his case to the American people, including a morning news conference on Monday, a nationally televised interview Wednesday night, and interviews scheduled with local television affiliates Thursday.

Another metric no doubt pleasing to the White House: by a two-to-one margin, voters say they blame President George W. Bush over Obama for the economic recession. Fifty-four percent say Bush is more to blame while 27% point the finger at Obama; the split is 49%-24% among self-identified independents.

But while that may be a helpful in the near term, it may not help his reelection efforts. Seventy-one percent say the nation's economy is still in recession. Only 23% say the economy is getting better, 32% say it's getting worse, and 43% say it's about the same.

Gallup's latest three-day tracking poll finds Obama's approval rating at 44%. Another Gallup survey shows him trailing a generic Republican candidate 47%-39% in the presidential election.

The debt ceiling issue is a tricky one to poll. Quinnipiac found voters roughly divided on what would be worse -- raising the debt limit to allow more government spending, or not raising it and leading the government to default.

Republicans have repeatedly rejected Democratic calls for new revenues in addition to spending reductions, but two-thirds of respondents in the Quinnipiac survey said an agreement should include tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

But asked differently in another new poll, this from Gallup, 50% said Congress should attempt to reduce the budget deficit either solely or mostly through spending cuts, while just 11% said only or mostly with tax increases.

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted for the Washington Post, found that even as the deadline nears for lawmakers to reach a deal, voter attitudes have shifted only slightly. By a margin of 5%, voters say they are more concerned about the risks of raising the debt ceiling than the risks of not doing so. Asked the same question in May, only 7% fewer were concerned about the consequences of a default.

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