Debt Ceiling Debate Galvanizes Opinions of President Obama's Job PerformanceJuly 8, 2011
Resurgent Republic sponsored a series of focus groups in June in four battleground states: Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado. We measured voter sentiments on the current state of the economy, increasing the debt ceiling, and the debate over Medicare. We also probed voter opinion regarding President Obama’s handling of the economy and whether voters believe President Obama has put forward the right policies to spur job growth.
Independent voters’ growing disapproval of President Obama’s policies has been well documented by Resurgent Republic dating back to April 2009. The majority of Independents in this focus group series represent a specific segment of swing voters: Independents who voted for Obama and still somewhat approve of his job performance. These voters comprise President Obama’s last line of electoral defense.
Of the 41 registered or self-identified Independents in our groups, 31 supported President Obama in 2008 and 26 approve of his job performance today while 12 disapprove and 3 are unsure. All are undecided on the 2012 generic presidential ballot. In addition to swing voters, this series included separate focus groups with Hispanics, Soft Republicans, Strong Republicans, and Tea Party voters.
Increasing the Debt Ceiling
President Obama’s request that Congress raise the debt ceiling galvanizes their critique of his spending policies.
Participants believe President Obama has made the national debt worse and view the economic stimulus spending as Exhibit A. The Independents and Hispanic voters were shocked to hear the statement then-Senator Obama made in 2006 when he voted against raising the debt ceiling. One Pennsylvania Independent female who voted for Obama said, “someone should read that [statement] back to him.” Other participants excused the remarks as simply politics as usual, but that admission reveals how President Obama no longer carries the post-partisan mantle among these voters. The debt limit debate has the potential to further weakening support among Obama Independents.
The debate over raising the debt ceiling stokes voter ire because participants see it as an example of Washington playing by a different set of rules.
Many respondents mentioned how the weak economy has forced them to make very tough financial decisions, from searching for secondary employment to cutting back on the family budget. Several participants used the analogy of a personal credit card, noting they can’t arbitrarily raise their personal borrowing limit. Instilling financial discipline – in their personal life and in Washington – means cutting up a maxed-out credit card, according to the participants.
In both Pennsylvania and Florida, Independent women were able to cite very personal and specific reasons as to why raising the debt ceiling angered them. They saw the impact the mounting debt will have in hindering the aspirations of future generations, increasing taxes, and decreasing the quality of education. The Independent men voiced equally strong disapproval of Washington’s out-of-control spending, but tended to view raising the debt ceiling as a necessary evil.
Voters strongly believe spending cuts should be greater than the amount of any debt ceiling increase.
Participants desire evidence that Washington is ready to stop its spending spree, and cutting $1 of spending for every $1 the debt ceiling is raised is viewed as failing to get ahead of the problem. The phrase “we have got to stop spending money we don’t have” was a common and persuasive refrain, as Resurgent Republic has found in previous national surveys.
The strong Republican voters were more likely to believe the debt ceiling will eventually need to be raised, even if they disdain doing so. The Tea Party voters were more adamant about pursuing a new path forward. Yet both groups prefer a solution void of perpetual debt limit increases. Another common concern among all the voting groups was the spending cuts would end up being symbolic changes and not be substantial enough.
In addressing the national debt, there was limited perception that a robust economy will have a more lasting impact on increasing government revenue than raising taxes, and little sense of correlation between higher taxes and job loss.
Participants also had a difficult time comprehending potential consequences of not increasing the debt limit. Washington’s reckless spending is real to the respondents, while the scenarios that might arise from not increasing the debt limit seemed mostly theoretical.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA-08)
June 21, 2011
Independent Men (under 55) / Independent Women (under 55)
Conducted by The Tarrance Group
Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA-02)
June 23, 2011
Strong Republicans / Tea Party Voters
Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates
Orlando, Florida (FL-08)
June 29, 2011
Independent Men (55+) / Independent Women (55+)
Conducted by American Viewpoint
Denver, Colorado (Denver Suburbs)
June 30, 2011
Soft Republicans / Hispanics
Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies