Watch CBSN Live

Poll: Most Americans oppose raising debt limit


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

Despite Obama administration warnings that failing to do so would devastate the economy, a clear majority of Americans say they oppose raising the debt limit, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows.

Just 27 percent of Americans support raising the debt limit, while 63 percent oppose raising it.

Eighty-three percent of Republicans oppose raising the limit, along with 64 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats. Support for raising the debt limit is just 36 percent among Democrats, and only 14 percent among Republicans.

Seven in ten who oppose raising the debt limit stand by that position even if it means that interest rates will go up.

Poll: Approval ratings for Obama, Congress dip

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has notified Congress that they will need to raise the debt limit from the current $14.3 trillion level in mid-May to early July for the United States to meet its current fiscal obligations.

Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, are demanding spending cuts in exchange for their votes to raise the debt ceiling. They seized on the recent Standard & Poor's warning that it could eventually lower its rating on U.S. debt "a wake-up call to those in Washington asking Congress to blindly increase the debt limit," in the words of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

If the debt limit is not raised, the United States could default on its bonds for the first time in history.* White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has suggested not raising it would be "a catastrophic folly."

Poll: One in four Americans think Obama was not born in U.S.

Mr. Obama actually voted against raising the debt limit when he was a senator, a decision the White House says he now regrets. In past years, Congress has regularly voted to increase the debt limit - though voting to do so has usually fallen to the party in power.

In addition to potentially increasing interest rates, a failure to raise the debt limit could delay for Social Security and Medicare checks ties to the government's inability to make payments to agencies. It would also mean the shutdown of much of the government.

While Republicans leaders are reportedly acknowledging behind closed doors that they will not let the United States fall into default, they are considering demanding everything from a balanced budget amendment to statutory spending caps to a 2/3rds voting requirement to increase taxes.

Even if the budget proposal passed by House Republicans were to become law, Congress would still need to raise the debt limit, since the Ryan plan steadily increases the debt over the next decade. Only a budget that eliminates - not reduces - the yearly budget deficit would halt the increase in the debt.

Poll: Most Americans say Medicare is worth the cost
Poll: GOP's 2012 contenders unknown, unloved
PDF: Read the complete poll results

*Update, April 22, 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time: This post originally said "If the debt limit is not raised, the United States will default on its bonds for the first time in history." It now says "If the debt limit is not raised, the United States could default on its bonds for the first time in history." After the post went up, conservative commentator Erick Erickson suggested I was "either wrong or lying" by asserting that the U.S. will default if the debt limit is not raised.

As The Economist explained in January, "almost everyone takes it for granted that a failure to raise the debt ceiling will eventually force the United States to default on its Treasury debt." However, as that magazine points out, the government could potentially prioritize paying bond interest over other spending, such as Social Security payments, in order to avoid default. 

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,224 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 15-20, 2011. 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. An oversample of Republicans was also conducted for this poll, for a total of 543 interviews among this group. The results were then weighted in proportion to the average party distributions in previous 2011 CBS News and CBS News/New York Times Polls and in the random sample in this poll. The margin of error for Republicans is plus or minus four percentage points.
View CBS News In