Most Americans back debt ceiling compromise

A majority of Americans wants their political leaders to compromise to reach a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, but many Republicans say their party should stick to its positions, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday night that illuminates the undercurrents beneath the current standoff in Washington. Wide majorities of Democrats and independents say they want Democratic congressional leaders to make compromises in the current budget debate, and almost 70 percent of independents want Republican leaders to compromise. But 53 percent of Republicans want their party's leaders in Congress to stick to their positions, even if it makes a budget consensus more elusive. That number is even higher among those who identify as Tea Party supporters. The poll underscores the current state of play for Republicans, who, in many cases, find themselves stuck between a base that does not want to see the debt ceiling raised and a broader electorate that is seeking compromise and action in Washington. As in other surveys released this week, the poll shows Americans warming to raising the debt ceiling. A slight plurality now favors raising the debt ceiling (38 percent for, 31 percent against), a stark turnaround from last month, when just 28 percent of Americans thought Congress should raise the debt limit. The poll also shows that, among all Americans, the plans proposed by President Obama and Democrats have more support. Asked to choose between Obama's proposal, "which would reduce the Federal deficit by four trillion dollars over the next decade by cutting federal spending, increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and reducing the level of spending on Medicare," or the Republicans' proposal to "reduce the Federal deficit by two and a half trillion dollars over the next decade by cutting Federal spending and would not raise taxes on corporations or the wealthy," respondents choose Obama's plan by a 58-to-36-percent margin. Asked whether Democrats should accept cuts to Medicare and Social Security in order to forge a deal, just 38 percent of Americans want them to agree to those conditions. But asked whether Republicans should accept higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy if that was the only way to strike a deal, 62 percent of Americans say the GOP should accept that. While Obama's proposals are more popular with Americans, there is political peril for each side in intransigence. Asked whom they would blame if the debt ceiling is not raised and the country defaults, nearly equal percentages assign responsibility to Congressional Republicans (39 percent) and Obama (35 percent). And the debate, combined with a sluggish economic recovery, is taking its toll on broader measures of Obama's job performance. Obama's approval rating (47 percent approve to 48 percent disapproval) is underwater for the first time this year. And just 25 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction -- a new low-water mark of Obama's presidency. Among registered voters, a generic Republican (39 percent) trails Obama (42 percent) by just three points -- the smallest gap since the NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling team began asking the question in February. Among Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the national frontrunner, leading the field with 30 percent of the vote for the second consecutive month. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has surged into second place with 16 percent, a jump from just 3 percent in June. The poll was conducted July 14-17 by a bipartisan team of pollsters led by Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. The poll surveyed 1,000 adults, for a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. There were 829 registered voters and 234 Republican primary voters, for margins of error of +/- 3.4 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.
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