Poll shows more people concerned about national debt than national default

Maybe if media organizations do enough polls on this subject, they might actually believe the consistent results they produce.  This time, the Washington Post teams up with Pew to determine that the White House’s scare tactics on default haven’t budged the needle on raising the debt limit.  In fact, they can’t even get a majority of their own party to worry more about a default than adding to the national debt:

The debate over whether to raise the legal limit on government borrowing has riveted Americans, with a large majority worried about the potential consequences regardless of whether Congress votes to allow the national debt to keep increasing.

But when pressed to name their biggest concern, nearly half of respondents say they are alarmed by the prospect that the debt could grow beyond its current limit of $14.3 trillion, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Only 35 percent say they are more worried about the risk of default and economic destabilization if Congress does not raise the debt limit.

Pew breaks down the numbers:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post, conducted May 19-22 among 1,004 adults, finds that by more than two-to-one (60% to 25%), Republicans say their greater concern is that raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger.

Independents, by 49% to 34%, also say their bigger concern is that raising the debt limit would lead to more spending and more debt. Nearly half of Democrats (48%) say their greater concern is that not raising the debt limit would lead to a government default, but 38% say they are more concerned that raising the debt limit would lead to higher spending.

Only 25% of the respondents say that they have “heard a lot” about the issue, but even that’s bad news for the White House.  Among those most engaged, a majority worry more about adding to the national debt (52%), while 37% worry more about a default.  The attempt to panic people into hiking the limit on borrowing has failed, even among Democrats.

This puts the White House on the outside of the mainstream on fiscal policy.  The consistent poll numbers strengthen the Republican bargaining position for restructuring federal spending in significant ways as a tradeoff for what will be a very unpopular policy choice.  As Democrats in the Senate start to approach the 2012 elections, more and more of them will start to demand the same changes as Republicans in order to protect their own seats in what looks like the next GOP wave.  If the President keeps demanding debt-ceiling hikes while offering relative pittances for cuts, that wave will turn into a tsunami — again.