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Poll: Americans divided on debt limit deal


CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Americans are divided on Congress' last-minute deal to raise the debt ceiling, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows.

According to the survey, conducted within days of Congress' passage of a controversial bill to increase the nation's borrowing limit, 46 percent of Americans said they approved of the deal. Forty-five percent disapproved of the agreement, which was brokered in frantic negotiations with little more than a day before the White House's August 2 deadline for action.

There was not a lot of enthusiasm even among those who approved of the deal: Only 4 percent did so "strongly." Ninteen percent, meanwhile, strongly disapproved of the deal.

Poll: Disapproval of Congress hits all-time high

Democrats, Republicans and independents are all mixed on the legislation, which is projected to cut nearly $2.5 trillion in government spending over the next ten years: 44 percent of Democrats, 41 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans oppose it. Fifty-six percent Tea Party backers disapprove.

Many Republicans - along with many independents - don't think the legislation went far enough in cutting spending. Six in ten Republicans wanted more cuts, as did almost half (46 percent) of independents. Tea Party supporters, in particular, were dissatisfied with the level of spending cuts.

Democrats were more mixed: 26 percent felt the spending reductions went too far, 28 percent thought they did not go far enough, and 37 percent thought they were about right.

One in two Americans said they had hoped to see tax increases accompany spending cuts as part of the agreement, while 44 percent opposed their inclusion. Revenue increases were excluded from the immediate phase of the debt deal, but a mandatory second round of cuts could include tax increases, depending on the political will of a 12-person congressional "super committee" tasked determining further reductions.

Overall, Americans voiced a mixture of relief and frustration at the outcome of the debate. Forty-four percent of voters said they were largely relieved a deal was ultimately reached, while 45 percent said they felt mostly frustrated by the results.

Most Tea Party supporters were dissatisfied with the results of the fight. Fifty-six percent disapprove of the agreement, and 63 percent are more frustrated than relieved with the outcome. Seventy-three percent do not think the spending cuts went far enough.

The bitter nature of the negotiations, and the Tea Party's visible role in them, seems to have taken its toll on the popularity of the movement. Tea Party-favoring House lawmakers in particular fought vehemently for deep spending cuts - and were accused by some of taking the debate "hostage."

According to the poll, more Americans view the Tea Party unfavorably than ever before: The percentage of Americans that views the Tea Party movement favorably has dropped six points to 20 percent since April, while the number of people who view the Tea Party unfavorably has jumped to 40 percent, up 11 percent from April.

Among Republicans, the drop in favorability is steeper: Favorable views of the Tea Party have dropped 18 points since April, to 41 percent.

Many Americans also think the Tea Party has an outsized influence on the Republican party: 43 percent believe the Tea Party has too much of an influence on the GOP, up from 27 percent who thought the same in April. Among Republicans, that figure has risen from just nine percent to 22 percent in the same timeframe.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement has dropped to 18 percent. This number was at 31 percent immediately following the 2010 midterm elections.

Of those who do identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, 51 percent approve of the job House Speaker John Boehner is doing. They are evenly split on how the Republicans handled the debt-ceiling negotiations: 48 percent approve, and 48 percent disapprove. Seventy-two percent, meanwhile, blamed the debt limit standoff on President Obama and the Democrats.

Overall, Americans think the prolonged debt ceiling negotiations have tarnished the United States' image in the world. Seventy-one percent think they have made the image of America worse.

And there's no consensus on whether or not the deal to raise the debt ceiling will actually help the economy: 46 percent of Americans think it will have no impact at all; the rest are divided on how it will affect an economy that most believe to be in poor condition.

Regardless, the debate captured America's attention: 85 percent said they followed it at least somewhat closely.

Read the full poll (PDF)

This poll was conducted by telephone on August 2-3, 2011 among 960 adults nationwide who were first interviewed in two polls: a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted June 24-28, 2011 and a CBS News Poll conducted July 15-17, 2011. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
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