AP-GfK Poll: Things to know about opinions on the debt limit and government spending

WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans think government spending cuts are so important that it would be worth a government shutdown to achieve them, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. And half want spending cuts to be part of any deal to increase the nation’s debt limit.

Here are some things to know about public opinion on the debt ceiling and the threat of a government shutdown from the new AP-GfK poll:


In the new poll, 24 per cent say they support and 29 per cent say they oppose raising the country’s debt limit. Nearly half (44 per cent) say they neither favour nor oppose raising it.

But in a follow-up question, half of Americans say they want to see the debt ceiling increased only in exchange for significant spending cuts, even if that means a significant reduction in government services and programs. Another 35 per cent think Congress should increase the debt ceiling first, then discuss spending cuts and deficit reduction separately, while 11 per cent say Congress should not increase the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

There’s a major partisan divide on how Congress should handle the debt ceiling talks. A majority of Democrats — 58 per cent — think Congress should raise it first, separately from discussions about the budget and deficit. An even larger majority of Republicans — 73 per cent — think it should only be increased if spending cuts are made at the same time.

Republican congressional leaders struck a deal with their Democratic counterparts and President Barack Obama late Monday on a two-year budget deal that would take the threat of a debt crisis and partial government shutdown off the table until after the 2016 elections.


If the debt ceiling is not increased, many Americans aren’t sure what to expect and what the magnitude of the fallout would be. Four in 10 think it’s very or extremely likely that the United States would face a major economic crisis if the debt ceiling is not increased, but another 4 in 10 think that’s only somewhat likely, and 17 per cent think it’s not likely at all.

Despite a divide over what to do about the debt ceiling, Democrats are not significantly more likely than Republicans to see a high likelihood of an economic crisis if it is not increased.


More than half of Americans — 56 per cent — say they think reducing government spending is important enough that it would be worth shutting down the government to achieve it.

A large majority of Republicans (74 per cent) say reducing government spending is worth a government shutdown, but a significant minority of Democrats (44 per cent) say so, too.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Americans actually want to see a shutdown happen. The poll also shows that 63 per cent would prefer that the next House speaker be someone who would compromise to pass a budget, while 33 per cent prefer someone who will stick to conservative principles even if it will cause a shutdown. Six in 10 Republicans prefer principles over compromise in a new speaker.

More generally, Americans are more likely to say they would prefer that leaders from their party in Congress compromise with the other side to pass legislation rather than stick with their principles even if it makes passing legislation more difficult, 60 per cent to 37 per cent.


Americans are less likely to say that other goals, like blocking a nuclear deal with Iran (43 per cent), repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law (36 per cent) or defunding Planned Parenthood (26 per cent) would be worth shutting down the government to achieve.

But Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to think each goal would be worth a shutdown.

Six in 10 Republicans but less than 2 in 10 Democrats would shut down the government to repeal President Obama’s health care law, while 6 in 10 Republicans but just a third of Democrats would shut it down to block a nuclear deal with Iran. And 44 per cent of Republicans, but just 12 per cent of Democrats, think defunding Planned Parenthood would be worth a government shutdown.


Republican supporters of the tea party movement are significantly more likely than other Republicans to see a shutdown as a worthwhile tool to achieve a variety of policy goals.

Three-quarters of tea party supporters would do it to block the Iran deal or to repeal the health care law, while non-tea party Republicans are divided about evenly on whether either of those goals would be worth a shutdown.

Six in 10 tea party supporters but only a third of non-tea party Republicans would shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online Oct. 15 to Oct. 19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.



Poll results: