GOP In Danger Of Losing The P.R. War Over Debt, Spending, And Taxes?

If you look at the polls, the GOP has several things to be concerned about in the debate over the debt ceiling.

As the negotiations between the White House and Republicans become more tense, there’s at least some indication that the GOP is risking a voter backlash if the parties are unable to reach a deal to increase the debt ceiling before the Treasury Department’s August 2nd deadline:

A majority of U.S. voters give a thumbs down to President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, but they trust him more than congressional Republicans to get the country back on track — and favor his approach to trimming the nation’s debt, a poll out Thursday finds.

Fifty-six percent of voters say in the new Quinnipiac University poll that they disapprove of how the president is handling the economy, while 38 percent approve.

Even so, 45 percent trust the president more than Republicans on the economy, while 38 percent trust the Republicans more.

As negotiations to raise the debt ceiling have intensified and the president has taken on a larger role in fighting for them in public and in private, Obama’s approval rating has stayed unchanged from Quinnipiac’s last poll a month ago with 47 percent of voters approving of his job performance and 46 percent disapproving.

If there’s no deal to raise the debt ceiling, the poll finds, voters would blame congressional Republicans over the president, 48 percent to 34 percent.

Survey participants also would prefer to see two measures that Obama has pushed: tax hikes for the rich and closing loopholes.

Sixty-seven percent say an agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include not just spending cuts but tax increases for the rich and corporations, while 25 percent disagree. And 45 percent say that the president’s efforts to raise revenues look more like “closing loopholes” than “tax hikes.” Even so, 57 percent of those surveyed say they think the tax changes would hurt the middle class and not just the rich.

In addition to this poll from Quinnipiac, there’s also a new Gallup Poll which James Joyner touched on earlier today that showed that the vast majority of Americans favored a resolution to the debt crisis that included a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. As this chart that Bruce Bartlett put together shows, that Gallup poll is far from an anomaly:

On the other side of the debate, there’s a newly released Rasmussen poll that purports to show that 55% of Likely Voters oppose raising taxes as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Along with the usual caveats about Rasmussen polling that has come to light after the 2010 elections, though, it’s worth noting the question that they asked:

As part of legislation to raise the debt ceiling, should congress and the president raise taxes?

They’re asking the respondent, do you favor raising the debt ceiling and raising taxes? There’s no mention of the choices given respondents in other polls about a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts. So, I’m not sure that this number really does anything to undercut the Gallup numbers, or the results from the other polls.

So, things would seem to look good for the GOP and bad for Democrats, right? As Dave Weigel notes, that’s not necessarily the case at all:

Here’s the beautiful trap that Democrats find themselves in. As it was in 2001, as it was at the end of 2010, higher tax rates on the rich and fewer loopholes for the advantaged (as opposed to tax giveaways for lower-income voters) are very popular. But the opposition party is resolutely against any tax cuts, ever. That doesn’t just make it politically difficult to raise taxes. It shifts the reality in D.C. and the punditocracy. In polls, the Bernie Sanders position of a deal that’s 50 percent tax hikes and 50 percent cuts is the most popular option — 32 percent support in Gallup. In Washington, it’s what the crazy socialist thinks — the rest of us agree that you can’t raise taxes.

This is ultimately the reason that President Obama ended up essentially giving the GOP everything they wanted on the extension of the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2010. Despite the fact that there was more than enough polling that demonstrated clearly that the public supported, and still supports, the Democratic position that the tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 per year should be allowed to lapse (a number that goes even higher when the income level is $1,000,000/year or above). the President caved. He caved because, even in the 111th Congress, the structure of the system favored the GOP, and because the GOP was unwilling to blink. That’s what seems to be happening this time around.

It’s got to be frustrating for Democrats. The polls say the public supports them on this issue, and yet they keep losing the political battles and they haven’t been able to turn the popular support for tax hikes on the rich into success at the ballot box. Depending on how this deal works itself out, one wonders if it will even be in the public consciousness when Election Day rolls around in November 2012. As we’ve stated numerous times here, the main issue in 2012 is going to be the state of the economy and whether the public thinks Barack Obama deserves a second term. Unless one side or the other manages to do something horribly stupid that results in the debt ceiling not being raised in time, the exact details of whatever deal gets worked out over the next several weeks isn’t likely to play that big of a role in the election, especially since the GOP Presidential candidates are largely staying out of the debate over the debt ceiling.

So, yes, if you look at the numbers the GOP has something to be concerned about. Based on how these things have worked out in the past, though, I’m not sure they’re going to pay much of a press for bucking public opinion on these issues.


FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    I think the GOP has already gone too far. If they do not repair their position, and moderate it, before the 2012 election, they are toast.

    “No new taxes” is just too 1999.

  2. Jib says:

    Your assuming this gets solved with no economic damage and is not revisited during the election. Then sure, the GOP will skate on this. But if there is any economic damage from this (and there will be, your cutting spending, it comes out of the GDP total) or if they kick the can down the road and redo this during the election then the GOP will take a hit on this.

    This strikes me as you whistling past the graveyard. The signs are all around that the GOP in 2012 will not do any where close to as well as they did in 2010. Some of this is just what happens when you get power, you do things and it pisses people off. You can not continually buck the popular opinion with out it hurting you at the polls and the GOP is on the wrong side of a lot of issues these days.

    Nate Silver did a good job breaking down 2010 and there is plenty of evidence that just being a presidential election means the democrats will do better. And in 2010 the GOP overextended its self winning seats they really can not hold, just like the dems did in 2008. No matter what the GOP is giving back seats in the house in 2012, the only question is how many.

    As far as Obama, at some point, the questions stops being ‘is Obama doing a good job’ and will change to ‘who do I want to run the country, Obama or Romney (or Bachman or Perry)’. That is a different question and as we found out in 2004, even a president who most people think is not doing a good job can win the head to head.

  3. JohnMcC says:

    But combine ‘no new taxes’ with ‘keeping us safe from sharia law’ and you’ve really got a winner.

  4. john personna says:

    heh, surely the number of people who cringe with fear at the mention of sharia law is much reduced as well.

    Time inures.

  5. Kylopod says:

    >I think the GOP has already gone too far. If they do not repair their position, and moderate it, before the 2012 election, they are toast.

    If Obama manages to win in 2012 with an even worse economy than when he entered office (the likely result of a debt default), the GOP will not be the only casualty. Another will be political science.

  6. Wayne says:

    One people don’t vote for a Party in general they vote for their representatives. Otherwise Pelosi would have been long gone.

    I have seen polls being cherry pick and used by pundits to support their party positions from all sorts of angles. There is nothing new in that.

    The Democrats and Obama are just as likely if not more so to suffer political backlash as The Republicans are. If the GOP once again cave and give us meaningless spending reforms, they will suffer much worst backlash than if they do what they had promised.

  7. ratufa says:

    One way the Republicans will lose if the debt ceiling doesn’t get raised is that it will no longer be possible to gloss over the consequences. Nodding your head in agreement when a talking head on TV preaches about fiscal responsibility is one thing. Discovering that Medicaid is no longer going to pay for grandma’s nursing home care or that your unemployment got cut earlier than anticipated is another thing. If you believe that those sorts of consequences won’t happen, feel free to look at:

    and come up with a trillion+ in cuts that people won’t, painfully, notice.

    The Party Faithful may think that this pain is necessary and, yes, some amount of pain will required to fix our budget problems. But, it’s not something that has been a part of Republican talking points (for obvious reasons), and I think many members of the public are going to be unpleasantly surprised.

  8. Kit says:

    Doug, I’ve got a kind of loaded question for you – at what point would you be willing to say, “The GOP has lost their collective mind and I’m going to vote Democrat because some responsible governance would be really nice right now?” I remember seeing John Cole go through a phase like that circa Terry Schaivo, but he went the whole kit & kaboodle from partisan Republican to partisan Democrat (though as is par for the course for partisan Democrats, he spends a third of his time yelling at certain people in his own party for saying stupid stuff). Regardless, where do you think the line should be drawn that you may dislike everything the other team stands for but you’ll support them because difference in ideology beats burning the economy down?

  9. An Interested Party says:

    If you believe that those sorts of consequences won’t happen, feel free to look at:

    and come up with a trillion+ in cuts that people won’t, painfully, notice.

    This brings up an important point outside of the debt ceiling debate…many Republicans and conservatives are calling for huge cuts in the budget…as a hypothetical, that’s just wonderful, but do they really believe that if such cuts were enacted, the pain that would be caused wouldn’t come back to hurt those responsible for those cuts?

  10. Barb Hartwell says:

    I feel the Republicans are going to lose in 2012 because they are not willing to negotiate, which needs to be done in a democracy. The people they are hurting are voters and they will respond. Obama may have caved in on some things but the opposition is turning any hope of the independents voting for republicans. The kids teachers, firemen etc. They are very good activist and will be out in numbers especially now that they are out of a job.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    The Republicans rode the Tea Party to victory in 2010 and now they are going to ride the Tea Party over a cliff.

  12. Wayne says:

    Yeah the Democrats are so willing to negotiate. They won’t put up anything but the vaguest generality of plans to deal with the deficit and debt crisis. They want to spend much more than the Republicans then blame the Republicans for spending too much.

  13. sam says:


    Ah, face it Wayne, your guys are screwing the political pooch bigtime. All the media has had to do is turn the cameras on some tea party dude or dudette, and the rational portion of America sees a South Park episode masquerading as a political movement.

  14. Tlaloc says:

    In polls, the Bernie Sanders position of a deal that’s 50 percent tax hikes and 50 percent cuts is the most popular option — 32 percent support in Gallup. In Washington, it’s what the crazy socialist thinks — the rest of us agree that you can’t raise taxes.

    The great disparity in our government is under representation of minorities or women in the seats of power (although both are issues worth addressing) the elephant in the room (no pun intended) is that congress and the president are almost 100% extremely wealthy compared to the average american. A representative democracy needs the representatives to be reflective of the society as a whole. The wealthy simply cannot understand what life is like for you or I, which is why you have such painful statements as Obama saying he “remembers” pumping his own gas.

    The problem of course is how to break the pattern given that our system greatly favors the wealthy, who do not require working a job to survive and may partially or completely self fund, as well as having the contacts to raise funds. A strong system of public funding, and only public funding would help but not completely resolve the issue.

  15. Liberty60 says:

    Ratufa makes a good point that “spending cuts” is a wildly popular idea….in the abstract.
    “Cutting off Grandma’s Medicare” is wildly unpopular.

    Yes, this is a contradiction, but its what Washington has been feeding us for decades- we can spend a trillions of dollars endlessly, without anyone ever paying taxes.

    There is a theory floating around (I forget who started it) that the republicans decided in the 1980’s to become the Double Santa Claus Party- spending wildly on defense, while giving away massive tax breaks, all with borrowed money.

    I wouldn’t excuse the dems in any of this- but one shame they can honestly avoid is the fraud of “tax cuts pay for themselves”.

  16. jukeboxgrad says:

    the republicans decided in the 1980′s to become the Double Santa Claus Party- spending wildly on defense, while giving away massive tax breaks, all with borrowed money

    I think credit for that (the Two Santa Claus analogy) goes to Thom Hartmann. The GOP figured out 30 years ago that if raising spending is a great way to buy votes, then an even better way to buy votes is to raise spending while cutting taxes. That’s why 3/4 of the debt that Obama inherited was created under three presidents: Reagan, Bush and Bush.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    Tax and Spend vs. Borrow and Spend, yeah. This has been obvious for some time. The bill is coming due, and “Borrow & Spend” wants to blame “Tax and Spend.” That just doesn’t wash.

    I firmly believe that if you want to put in a new program or expand an existing one (note: this leaves out something like stimulus spending in the wake of a recession or funding for the first stage of a war), you must raise taxes or cut other spending to pay for it (aka PAYGO). If the public balks at higher taxes/cuts in other programs, then you don’t get your new/expanded program. That’s how it should work. There is no Santa Claus.

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    Tax and Spend vs. Borrow and Spend, yeah

    Yes, it boils down to this:

    D: tax and spend
    R: borrow and spend

    And it’s important to understand that borrow and spend is just a special kind of tax and spend. Borrow and spend creates a tax. It’s just that the tax is imposed on a group that’s not in a position to vote or complain: our kids.