President Obama’s request that Congress pass another increase in the federal debt limit and his argument that it should be a "clean" debt ceiling increase without preconditions limiting spending meets with overwhelming opposition from voters clearly frustrated by mounting federal debt. And in a time of continuing concern over job creation and rising gas prices, voters are more inclined to believe that too many federal government regulations are more harmful than helpful; that the U.S. government should be developing our own energy resources offshore rather than subsidizing Brazil to develop its offshore energy supply; and despite the widespread coverage of the nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan, continue to support more domestic nuclear energy.
President Obama’s policy of raising the federal debt limit without any preconditions relating to limiting spending, i.e. a "clean debt limit," is supported by only one-out-of-ten voters, the least popular option of three presented in a Resurgent Republic survey conducted jointly with the American Action Forum.
The second-ranking option overall is "not raising the debt limit under any circumstances." That option places second among Independents and Democrats, and is the top preference for Republicans.
The preferred option, drawing support from a plurality of voters overall, is "raising the debt limit, but only in exchange for substantial spending cuts and a commitment to reduce the deficit." The days of "routine" debt limit increase votes may be history, with voters holding firm views about the debt ceiling vote in a time of concern over the economy and a pervasive view that "we have got to stop spending money we don’t have," as has been seen in previous Resurgent Republic polling.
The survey asked voters about increasing the debt limit given three options, and in a Congressman A versus Congressman B simulated debate. Regardless of the formulation, voters overwhelmingly oppose increasing the debt limit unless strong conditions are attached.
When presented with three options, a plurality of voters supports raising the debt limit, "but only in exchange for substantial spending cuts and a commitment to reduce the deficit."
Forty-seven percent of registered voters overall prefer that approach, compared to 35 percent who oppose raising the debt limit under any circumstances and 11 percent who want to raise it without preconditions. Among Democrats, 49 percent want to raise the debt limit in exchange for spending cuts, 23 percent oppose raising the limit at all, and 18 percent want to raise the limit without preconditions. Among Independents, 49 percent want to raise the debt limit in exchange for cuts, 33 percent oppose raising the limit at all, and 11 percent want to raise the limit without preconditions.
Half of Republicans – 50 percent – oppose raising the debt limit under any circumstances. Forty-three percent want to raise the limit in exchange for spending cuts, and only 3 percent want to raise the limit without preconditions. Among those most strongly opposed to raising the debt limit under any circumstances are voters with a very favorable view of the Tea Party movement. Among those voters, 58 percent oppose raising the debt limit under any circumstances, and 37 percent support raising it in exchange for spending cuts.
When presented with two options giving opposing arguments, a majority of voters in all three partisan groups wants any increase in the debt limit tied to specific cuts in federal spending.
Congressman A says that Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling, because it is the only responsible thing to do. Tying the debt increase to spending cuts is just a political move by politicians who do not want to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Congressman B says that any increase in the federal debt limit should be tied to specific cuts in federal spending. We have got to stop spending money we don't have.
It is not surprising that Republicans and Independents prefer Congressman B's argument to tie the debt limit increase to spending cuts, by margins of 80 to 16 percent and 64 to 31 percent, respectively. Nor is it surprising that voters with a very favorable view of the Tea Party movement prefer Congressman B's argument by 81 to 16 percent. What is surprising is that a majority of Democrats agree with Congressman B, by 50 to 42 percent.
Intensity falls overwhelmingly on the side of tying the debt limit increase to spending cuts. Among Republicans, those strongly supporting Congressman B's argument lead those strongly supporting Congressman A's argument by 59 to 10 percent; among Independents that margin is 37 to 18 percent. But even more Democrats strongly agree with Congressman B (31 percent) than Congressman A (26 percent).
Clearly the national debate has shifted from "should we cut federal spending?" to "what federal spending should we cut?"
Making entitlement programs financially solvent in the future leads the list of conditions for increasing the debt limit, followed by substantial spending cuts to prevent the country from having to increase the debt limit in the future.
Respondents were read a list of conditions that might be tied to a vote to increase the debt limit, and asked if each condition would make them more likely or less likely to support increasing the debt limit. Making entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security solvent placed at the top of the list. While the question did not specify exactly how those programs should be made solvent, their placement at the top of the list demonstrates their importance to American voters.
The following arguments are ranked by the percentage of voters who say that condition would make them more likely to increase the limit. "Tea Party" refers to voters with a very favorable opinion of the Tea Party movement.
American voters clearly see too many federal government regulations as more of a threat than too few.
By a margin of 55 to 36 percent, voters are more concerned that the federal government has too many regulations that will hurt the economy, rather than too few regulations to hold private businesses accountable. Republicans are more concerned about too many regulations by 77 to 16 percent, as are Independents by 55 to 35 percent. Only Democrats are concerned about too few regulations by 56 to 36 percent.
As a general rule, Republicans and Independents believe that regulation of businesses should be conducted by state and local rather than the federal government, while Democrats are split on which level of government is preferable.
Congressman A says that most regulations of businesses should be issued only by the federal government. Regulations should cover the entire country, and it is easier for businesses to deal with one set of national regulations rather than 50 different sets of state regulations.
Congressman B says that most regulations of businesses should be issued exclusively by state and local governments. These governments are closer to the people, and they understand what will and will not work better than the federal government with its "one size fits all" mindset.
Voters overall prefer state and local regulations by almost a two-to-one margin – 60 to 32 percent. Republicans overwhelmingly prefer state and local regulations by 69 to 25 percent, as do Independents by 65 to 30 percent. Democrats split, with 48 percent preferring state and local regulation and 44 percent favoring federal regulation. As with views about too many versus too few regulations, Independents think more like Republicans than Democrats.
Voters to the FCC: Leave the Internet alone. All three partisan groups believe that the Internet has thrived on its own, and the federal government should stay away absent a major problem.
Congressman A says that, unless the federal government regulates the Internet, the big companies that own the cable and telephone lines will limit access to any websites that they do not own or control. The federal government should regulate the Internet now to ensure open access for all consumers.
Congressman B says that the Internet has thrived without the interference of the federal government. Private companies have proven capable of working out issues involving the Internet. The federal government should leave the Internet alone until there is a problem and not mess up a good thing.
Republicans and Independents strongly oppose the federal government regulating the Internet by margins of 75 to 20 percent and 64 to 28 percent, respectively. While Democrats are somewhat more supportive of regulation, even they oppose the federal regulation of the Internet by 49 to 42 percent.
Despite the problems of the Fukushima plant in Japan, voters still support the development of nuclear power in the United States. In last June’s Resurgent Republic survey, we found support for loan guarantees for nuclear power plants and opening the Yucca Mountain storage facility for nuclear waste by a 52 to 39 percent margin. This year we included a wording change to acknowledge the current situation in Japan:
Congressman A says that Japan proves there are too many unanswered questions about the safety of nuclear power, such as dealing with natural disasters and disposing of nuclear waste. The government should not encourage the building of more nuclear power plants in the U.S.
Congressman B says nuclear power provides a proven source of safe, affordable, low-carbon energy, which is why some countries rely on it for 80 percent of their electricity. We should provide loan guarantees to stimulate the construction of more nuclear plants in the U.S.
Voters agree with Congressman B by a 50 to 43 percent margin overall now, including a 59 to 34 percent margin among Republicans and a 49 to 45 percent margin among Independents. Democrats agree with Congressman A by a 51 to 41 percent margin.
Voters oppose helping Brazil develop its oil reserves while we have a moratorium on offshore exploration in the United States, preferring instead to develop energy supplies and good jobs here.
Congressman A says we should assist countries like Brazil with technology and support to safely develop oil reserves. By becoming one of Brazil’s best customers, we will develop a strategic energy partnership and increase secure energy supplies coming into the United States instead of depending on oil from the Middle East.
Congressman B says we should not send taxpayer dollars to Brazil so they can increase offshore drilling while there is a moratorium on offshore exploration and drilling in this country. Instead of becoming more dependent on foreign oil, the United States should develop our own energy supplies and create good paying jobs at home.
Voters agree with the second statement by a wide 76 to 18 percent margin, including a 68 to 24 percent margin even among Democrats (82 to 15 percent among Republicans and 80 to 16 percent among Independents).
Voters split almost evenly on whether the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate carbon without a law being passed by Congress.
Congressman A says the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate carbon pollution, even without direct congressional approval. The scientific consensus is overwhelming that carbon pollution harms the environment, and the EPA has the responsibility to protect our environment from all known threats.
Congressman B says the Environmental Protection Agency should not regulate carbon without a law being passed by Congress. The EPA does not have the authority to establish new regulations that could dramatically drive up our energy costs without congressional approval.
By a narrow 49 to 46 percent margin, voters agree with Congressman B that the EPA does not have the authority to regulate carbon without Congress passing a law allowing it. Republicans overwhelmingly support Congressman B's argument by 65 to 30 percent, and Independents do so narrowly by 50 to 45 percent. Democrats believe the EPA should regulate carbon even without direct Congressional approval by 61 to 35 percent.
A majority of voters supports federal subsidies for alternative energy.
Congressman A says the federal government should subsidize promising forms of alternative energy like solar, wind, and electric cars. Becoming less dependent on foreign oil is so important that we need to help alternatives get off the ground.
Congressman B says the federal government should not pick winners and losers in our energy future. We should eliminate all government subsidies and let consumers decide which energy sources are the most cost effective.
Overall voters support Congressman A's argument that the federal government should subsidize promising alternative energy sources by 53 to 41 percent. On this issue, Independents think more like Democrats than like Republicans. Democrats support Congressman A's argument for federal subsidies by 67 to 29 percent, and Independents agree by 56 to 40 percent. Republicans support Congressman B's argument to let the market decide by 57 to 38 percent.
This survey of 1000 registered voters was conducted April 17-20, 2011. Respondents were selected randomly from a random-digit-dialing sample including both cell phone and landline telephone numbers. All respondents confirmed that they are registered to vote in the county in which they live. Quotas were set for state, age, and race based on state registration and previous turnout. The sample was minimally weighted to reflect the current Pollster.com Democratic advantage of four points over Republicans. This sample has 34 percent Democrat, 32 percent Independent, and 30 percent Republican.
The margins of error for responses with an even split – 50 percent for one response and 50 percent for another response – is ±3.10 percent for the full sample, ±5.66 percent for Republicans, ±5.43 percent for Independents, and ±5.31 percent for Democrats. The margin of error is smaller when one response receives a higher level of support. For example, the margin of error is ±2.68 percent when 75 percent of respondents in the full sample choose one response and 25 percent choose another response.