The best news for Obama in the survey is that a solid plurality of Americans expressed more trust in him than in congressional Republicans to make decisions on the intertwined issues of raising the borrowing limit and reducing long-term debt. On the subject of the deficit, 46 percent of respondents said they trust Obama most to "make the right decisions," while 34 percent said they place more faith in congressional Republicans. Regarding the debt ceiling, a virtually identical 46 percent leaned toward Obama and 35 percent chose the GOP.
The result on each question showed little change in the polling conducted before and after House Speaker John Boehner abruptly cut off talks with the White House on Friday over a "grand bargain" to reduce the deficit.
Attitudes generally fractured along familiar political fault lines. On each issue, not surprisingly, just over three-fourths of self-identified Republicans preferred the GOP and slightly more than four-fifths of Democrats picked Obama. In each case, independents give Obama a single-digit advantage.
Similarly, on each question, about three-fifths of minorities preferred Obama, while only about one-fifth preferred Republicans. Whites divided exactly in half over which side they trust more on both questions; that's a relatively strong showing for Obama, whose numbers usually trail the GOP's among whites on most issues—often by substantial margins. Although blue-collar whites narrowly preferred the GOP on both issues, college-educated whites provided Obama with a narrow advantage on the deficit issue and a substantial edge, 49 percent to 37 percent, in trust on handling the debt ceiling.
These findings suggest that the sustained confrontation over the debt ceiling is helping Obama regain some ground with swing voters, especially the white-collar whites who provided him critical support in 2008 but moved sharply toward the GOP in last year's midterm election. Yet, it's not clear how much Obama's advantage over Republicans in this survey—which echoes the results of other recent polls—will benefit him in the immediate confrontation. That's because despite expressing more trust in Obama, much of the public still resists his assessment of the stakes of the standoff.
On the broadest question, Americans remain divided almost exactly in half on whether they would prefer increasing the debt ceiling at all. In the survey, 45 percent of those polled said their greater concern was that "raising the debt limit would lead to higher government spending and make the national debt bigger." Meanwhile, 43 percent said they were more concerned that "not raising the debt limit would force the government into default and hurt the nation's economy."
That result reflects more concern about default than when PSRA asked the question in May. But despite a cascade of recent warnings from public and private-sector officials, the latest result shows virtually no more alarm than earlier in July, when 47 percent of respondents said they worried more about a deal that could hike spending and 42 percent expressed more concern about default.