Skepticism on debt-ceiling polls

SKEPTICISM ON DEBT-CEILING POLLS…. The leadership of both parties seems to appreciate the importance of avoiding American default, protecting the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, and raising the federal debt limit.

The public doesn’t appear to be on the same page just yet.

Only 27 percent of likely voters favor raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, while 62 percent oppose it, according to an exclusive poll for The Hill.

The poll found solid opposition from Republicans and also from independent voters, who are critical to President Obama’s re-election in 2012.

Seventy-seven percent of likely GOP voters and 64 percent of independent voters said they don’t want the debt ceiling to be raised. Even among Democrats, more oppose raising the ceiling (46 percent) than support it (42 percent).

There was a recent poll, published a couple of weeks ago, that showed similar results.

Here’s hoping policymakers don’t care. I haven’t seen the wording of the question in this particular poll, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect most of the public has no idea what the debt ceiling is. For all I know, they might very well hear a poll question about this, and think it’s about whether they support higher or lower deficits.

At a minimum, those who say they oppose raising the limit probably haven’t the foggiest notion about the potential consequences of failure on this, and don’t realize what would be required if the ceiling isn’t raised.

This is one of those classic dynamics in which responsible policymakers realize that they know more about the subject matter than the public at large, so they have to do the right thing, even if the uninformed find it distasteful — knowing that the disaster that would follow would be far more unpopular.

Put it this way: what if the poll had asked, “Would you rather raise the debt ceiling or risk a global economic catastrophe and massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare?” The results, I suspect, might have turned out differently.

Long story short, debt-ceiling polls are useless if the electorate doesn’t understand the debt ceiling.