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Polls say stop, but the debt wrangling continues

A string of new polls shows most Americans want politicians to compromise ahead of the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline. But the ideological trench war in Congress rages on, forcing many to wonder where US lawmakers’ priorities lie.


As the acrimony index peaks in Washington and the Aug. 2 US debt ceiling deadline nears, the political war of words has been accompanied by a flurry of opinion polls. All the surveys state the obvious: Americans are sick of the Beltway politicking.

A string of recent polls has shown that most Americans are weary and want their leaders to strike a debt compromise. At least one major poll showed the public viewing the Republicans as particularly intransigent.

So while the Democrats and the Republicans come to the negotiating table with entrenched positions, the GOP now looks like it has more to lose if no action is taken. On Aug. 2 the US Treasury hits the current $14.3 trillion cap on borrowing, with credit rating organisations threatening to downgrade US if its debt ceiling is not raised.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted July 14-17, found 42 percent of all respondents believe the Republicans would be to blame if a deal is not reached, while 36 percent said US President Barack Obama would be the main culprit.

A majority thought neither camp was doing enough. When asked who is not willing to compromise on the budget deficit, 77 percent picked “Republican leaders” and 58 percent said “Obama”.

A CNN/ORC International poll conducted July 18-20 also suggested the Republican party is likely to lose the "blame game" if there is no debt ceiling deal.

While most Americans thought Obama had acted responsibly in the debt ceiling discussions so far, the CNN poll showed, nearly two-thirds said Republicans lawmakers had not acted responsibly. Fifty-one percent said they would blame the GOP if the borrowing cap is not raised; only three in ten would point the finger at Obama.

Serious business

While politicians on both sides of the political divide are fighting ideological trench warfare, a Gallup poll conducted July 15-17 found two-thirds of Americans would like congressmen to agree to a compromise plan.

The poll found fewer than three in ten respondents wanted lawmakers who share their views on the debt and budget deficit to hold out for their desired plan.

While some Republican lawmakers have questioned the seriousness of the Aug. 2 deadline, saying they do not believe the country will default if the ceiling is not raised, polls have consistently showed that Americans take the crisis very seriously.

According to Gallup, 56 percent of Americans believe an economic crisis will result if an agreement is not reached by Aug. 2.

The CNN/ORC International Poll found fewer respondents - 18 percent – who feared an economic crisis, but another 43 percent said it would create major problems for the country. Three in ten respondents said a failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause only minor problems and only six percent said no problems would occur.

Who’s listening to the polls?

And yet, even as poll after poll rolls out with the same basic message, compromise on Capitol Hill does not seem high on the agendas of both Republicans and Democrats.

Amid recent reports that Obama and Republican House speaker John Boehner were closing in on a deal, the Los Angeles Times reported that this time, some Democrats have erupted “like Mt. Vesuvius”.

Apparently, the prospect of a deal that does not include tax hikes was simply unacceptable for some Democrats.

Tax hikes are rarely popular ahead of elections and the recent Democratic position has raised the question of whether the politicians are taking note of the polls. In other words, do they care about what the majority of Americans think?

The answer, according to several political analysts, is that politicians don’t care as much about what most Americans want, as much as what their voters want.

According to Jack Holmes, a political science professor at the Michigan-based Hope College, what matters for the 87 new House Republicans is what the people who elected them will do when they go back into the voting booth in 2012.

Members of the House stand for re-election every two years.

“The public wants their side to win, and the members of Congress are in a real bind,” said Holmes in an interview with the Associated Press. “Come the election, their constituents who put them in office to cut spending and block new taxes will ask: `Did you do your job?' That's now defined as did you win on those issues.''

With the perception of victory trumping the concerns of most Americans, some analysts predict that there will be no deal until the deadline is at the country’s doorstep.

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