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July 20, 2011 10:00 AM The tide of public opinion keeps turning

By Steve Benen

For the better part of the year, congressional Republicans were able to argue, accurately, that Americans opposed raising the debt ceiling. It was arguably the only honest claim the GOP made in this debate: poll after poll showed public opposition to doing the right thing.

There was ample evidence that the public had no idea what the debt ceiling is, or what the consequences would be if it weren’t raised, but at least on the surface, far-right Republicans could credibly claim some public backing for their reckless tack.

With this in mind, it’s worth appreciating the extent to which the winds have shifted very quickly. Consider the results of the new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than eight in 10 — including 80 percent of Republicans — say there would be serious harm to the U.S. economy if the government could not continue to borrow money to fund its operations and pay its debts after Aug. 2.

Nearly as many — more than three-quarters — say the financial reputation of the United States would be severely undermined if the government’s borrowing power dried up. Six in 10 say such an event would deeply hurt their own financial situations.

The same poll found that a majority of Republican voters believe their own party should be more willing to compromise — and that most self-identified Republicans support new revenue as part of a larger debt-reduction plan.

Congressional Republicans, in other words, haven’t even convinced their own supporters.

Also consider the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that a plurality of Americans — for the first time — actually wants Congress to increase the debt ceiling. Also note the speed with which this turned around: in April, a tiny 16% minority was on board with doing the right thing. Three months later, that total has more than doubled and is now a plurality.

And this comes on the heels of the latest results from Gallup that showed, contra John McCain’s absurd boast, that Americans are desperate to see the parties compromise and strike a deal, even if they don’t agree with all of its provisions.

Indeed, while Republicans could credibly claim public support on the overall debt-ceiling question as recently as a couple of months ago, those days are long over.

The GOP can take some solace in the fact that the larger debate is occurring on their turf — they set the agenda here, and Democrats barely tried to resist — but when it comes to every other relevant detail, Republicans are losing badly.

The American mainstream fears the consequences of failure, wants a debt-ceiling increase, expects new revenue, supports tax increases on the wealthy, wants Republicans to be more flexible in reaching a compromise, would blame Republicans if a deal doesn’t come together, and trusts President Obama more in dealing with this mess. This clearly isn’t what Boehner, McConnell, & Co. had in mind.

Also note, this is in keeping with expectations. When struggling to understand why Americans would oppose a debt-limit increase, many of us said the public would come around — and sanity would prevail — once they learned more about why this is important and necessary. Over the last month or so, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Danp on July 20, 2011 10:06 AM:

    A few minutes ago, the weatherman on MSNBC said, "Well, no longer do people doubt that it's summer. It's going to be a scorcher today."

    I couldn't help but wonder if they did a poll, since that seems to be the only way to distinguish fact from fiction these days.

  • r on July 20, 2011 10:07 AM:

    "The GOP can take some solace in the fact that the larger debate is occurring on their turf — they set the agenda here, and Democrats barely tried to resist"

    Doesn't this just say it all.

  • T2 on July 20, 2011 10:16 AM:

    Yes, lots has happened in the last two months, and public opinion has clearly shifted to the Dem side. What hasn't happened to the degree needed was Obama firmly trimming his sails to this new breeze. He's been better lately, but definitely late to the party.

  • Jon on July 20, 2011 10:16 AM:

    Now that the necessity of passing the debt limit increase is generally acknowledged, isn't this the time for House Democrats to start making their own demands? Or sit out the vote, and let the increase be all on the GOP's head.

  • andrew on July 20, 2011 10:16 AM:

    "Also note the speech with which this turned around"

    Speech? Which speech? Please, can we get a copy editor or at least a proofreader in the house?

  • martin on July 20, 2011 10:17 AM:

    Oh c'mon, the Republicans will just say the so called liberal lamestream media lied to the people and turned them from the true path, of which they are the keepers and will continue to do what is good and right for the (rich) people of America.

  • c u n d gulag on July 20, 2011 10:21 AM:


    OK, start calling Republicans 'The "Deadbeat Mom's and Dad's" of America.

    'They want America to become a "Deadbeat Nation."'

    If they don't raise the debt ceiling, don't park American in you driveway - the repo man will come and get it!'

    How hard is it to message this stuff, Democrats?

    I mean really...

  • Brenna on July 20, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Did anyone see Joe Walsh on Hardball? Stunning ignorance. He couldn't defend his position so he accused Chris Matthews of bullying him.

    Then Mo Brooks with Al Sharpton was equally astounding. He just seemed confused.

  • kevo on July 20, 2011 10:29 AM:

    Boy, we Americans are such unassuming souls!

    The Republicans and their vested interests are brilliant in getting ahead of the narrative for any given political issue. The tactic employed is a saturation of the media with iron clad image-making talking points repeated over and over.

    Grab the narrative and distort the opposition's intent!

    Keep the American electorate engrossed in negativity so people will talk! Keep the talk loud and spun tightly around suspicious imagery, all the while moving the rhetorical goal posts if the canard is formidably challenged. Keep the electorate confused!

    Remember Death Panels and the summer time fun we as a nation had with that one?

    How about "pal-ing around with terrorists!"

    Oh, and there's the new one "Obama's obsession with raising taxes!"

    I'm sure I've only touched upon a fraction of what those pesky Republicans are up to rhetorically every time our nation needs leadership that would dare challenge their lazy ideas of what it is to be an American!

    A vote for a Republican is a vote for UnAmerican Activities! -Kevo

  • David V. on July 20, 2011 10:38 AM:

    It's easier to see things in black and white. The gray area of compromise requires depth of thought and consideration of things larger than a reactionary view protecting a self-satisfying narrow social position. Failing that, the slow realization that if the debt ceiling were not raised would personally impact everybody's entitlements and cause financial calamity is beginning to sink in…OMG, it will actually affect me personally, do something!

  • jlt on July 20, 2011 10:46 AM:

    Finally the public has turned off fox and is rewarded with the truth...mostly from the MSM..Education is the key! That and calling out the republican lies!

  • kevo on July 20, 2011 10:48 AM:

    Oh, and why are we here in the llth hour? Because the loud negative narrative since January has been that Washington has a "spending problem" when AP has just produced the evidence of why we can't put our nation's budget in the black:

    Our nation began borrowing money immediately after the Bush Tax Cuts passed the Senate under the Reconciliation Rules to the tune of a $2.5 trillion hole in our budgetary process for all these years, and the next to come!

    The Republicans have put us here, today, precisely because they have vehemently and loudly tried to disguise our revenue (Bush tax cuts) problem as a spending problem.

    They use the narrative to set the political reality on its head so they can put mo money in their own personal piggy banks, while the rest of us are looking at a whole lotta hurt very soon now! -Kevo

  • JM917 on July 20, 2011 10:59 AM:

    With public opinion finally starting to focus and with public fears finally starting to mount (but also with practically no time left to do a legislative deal) it looks like the stage is being set for a warning from all the rating agencies that a credit downgrade is "imminent"--and for a market crash. This will happen sometime during the week

    And then Obama will do what Clinton said--invoke the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Will that be enough for a finally panicked Congress (including enough scared Republian reps) to pass a resolution ratifying an unconditional rise in the debt ceiling, making Obama's action indisputably legal?

    Or for the House GOP to pass a resolution impeaching Obama?

    I'd say both. But at least it will have finally scared the sh*t out of the American people.

  • 2Manchu on July 20, 2011 11:09 AM:

    "Did anyone see Joe Walsh on Hardball? Stunning ignorance. He couldn't defend his position so he accused Chris Matthews of bullying him." - Brenna

    What got me was how much Walsh is an ignorant, assholic, douchebag thug.

    I had to turn the channel when my daughter came in the living room because his ranting was that offensive.

  • GC on July 20, 2011 11:12 AM:

    Why haven't the Dems pointed out the spending they are looking to cut? I mean, if the GOP is "against spending" then they should embrace eliminating the oil industry subsidies, ethanol subs, trim the military budget, etc. They call this increased revenue, but it's just a family cutting their expenses, to use their parallel. You stop eating out, that's not increased revenue. Stopping spending that we can do without is not either. This should be easy enough for even a Fox viewer to understand.

  • Schtick on July 20, 2011 11:15 AM:

    The new catch-phrase is "job creators" instead of big business buddies. About as intelligent as the "carmageddon" one with as much of the results. A big word for a non-event.

    crapcha....rnside ministry....no thanks. Those christians scare the bejeebus out of me.

  • david V. on July 20, 2011 11:23 AM:

    2Manchu, I did see Walsh on Hardball. His hubris was amazing. I guess he thinks he's a tough guy, but like most conservatives who aren't smart enough to debate, his only way out is making little passive-agressive comments. In the end, Chris M. did take him to school.

  • Judith Martinez on July 20, 2011 12:43 PM:

    " When struggling to understand why Americans would oppose a debt-limit increase, many of us said the public would come around — and sanity would prevail — once they learned more about why this is important and necessary.


    Yes BUT.... everyone has learned, except for too many members of Congress, the very people who actually get to make the decision about raising the Debt Ceiling.

  • Swift Loris on July 20, 2011 12:50 PM:

    More than eight in 10 — including 80 percent of Republicans — say there would be serious harm to the U.S. economy if the government could not continue to borrow money to fund its operations and pay its debts after Aug. 2....

    Also consider the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that a plurality of Americans — for the first time — actually wants Congress to increase the debt ceiling.

    Looks to me like a whole lot of Americans don't quite get the connection between the government being able to borrow money, on one hand, and increasing the debt ceiling, on the other. Unless, of course, the difference between 80 percent and the plurality consists of those who don't want to avoid serious harm to the economy.

  • Steve Sittig on July 20, 2011 3:20 PM:

    New plan: Repubs want to drown the fed gov baby in a bathtub by starving it of revenue (mixed metaphor?). And they claim higher taxes on rich will slow economy and reduce revenue. See where this is going? If we raise taxes on rich, both sides get what they want!

  • jhm on July 21, 2011 10:29 AM:

    Steve, I think it might be fair to consider that to GOPers, the fact that they are loosing public opinion is more of an incentive to not compromise, as their goal of scraping entitlements will be less achievable after an election. Of, course this sounds crazy—we're dealing with tea partiers here, after all—but if there is an increasing likelihood that they will loose the seats needed to achieve their true aims, then it becomes even more important to try to get it done now, and jettison their populist pretensions.

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