As debt ceiling looms, Americans fear for the economy

October 16, 2013, 1:34 PM GMT+0

As America teeters of the edge of a potentially catastrophic default, Americans are unsurprisingly gloomy about the future of the economy.

Tomorrow is the day that the Treasury Department says that the federal government will become unable to borrow more money and, as a consequence, be unable to pay many of its bills. With the partial government shutdown beginning its third week and Congress without a solution, public concern about the economy is growing. Nearly half the public in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll thinks the economy is getting worse – the highest figure in two years.

Only 16% believe the economy is improving. Even Democrats, who have consistently expressed the most positive assessments of the condition of the economy during the Obama Presidency, are divided on this: more than a quarter say the economy is getting worse.

This economic concern comes as increasing numbers of Americans claim that the shutdown has affected them. In addition, for most Americans the end of the shutdown is nowhere in sight. Although the Senate leadership is optimistic that they will find an end to the shutdown, the public is not. Just 13% think the shutdown will end within a week.

Nearly one in five think the shutdown will continue for a month – or even longer.

The worry has made the public negative about the state of the country in general. Just 15% believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction; three in four, including six in ten Democrats, say it is on the wrong track. This negative assessment jumped up during the shutdown’s first week, and shows no sign of decreasing as the shutdown affects more Americans.

Last week, 60% of the public either claimed to have been personally affected by one of several aspects of the shutdown, or know someone who had been affected. This week, that figure has risen to 63%. The number personally affected – 19% last week – is 21% now.

Opinion of Congressional parties, despite the negotiations that were taking place while the poll was being conducted, remains low, with Republicans in both the House and the Senate faring worse than Democrats. While majorities have unfavorable views of both the House and the Senate Democrats, even more have unfavorable opinions of Republicans in both Congressional chambers. And the Republicans get far more blame for the shutdown than their Democratic colleagues across the aisle do.

However, given the opportunity, Americans allocate blame across the board. Far more (19%) put the blame solely on Republicans in Congress than solely on Congressional Democrats or on President Obama alone, but one in three blames all of them. In fact, adding together all of those who allocate blame to one of the three in any combination, majorities say each is to blame. 52% mention Congressional Democrats, 56% President Obama, and 72% Congressional Republicans.

But the question included one other option: that of Tea Party Republicans. 15% blame them alone for the shutdown. And if that percentage is added to the GOP total, 72% of Americans put responsibility on the GOP, making them believed to be the most responsible for the shutdown.

In fact, in this poll, the Tea Party gets negative reviews: 26% are favorable, 43% are not. And only 13% now say they are part of the Tea Party movement. But Republicans feel differently: 62% of them are favorable, and only 9% are unfavorable towards the Tea Party. Hardly any Republicans say the Tea Party is at fault for the government shutdown. But only a third of Republicans nationally describe themselves as part of the movement, just about the same percentage who identified as such during much of the 2012 presidential campaign.

The spreading around of blame is consistent with other YouGov Polls conducted during the shutdown that ask a slightly different question – not who is at fault for starting the shutdown, but who is responsible for ending it. Tracking a question about who is the biggest obstacle to ending the shutdown, and forcing respondents to choose just one culprit from Congressional Republicans, Congressional Democrats, and President Obama, YouGov Polls find the percentage putting the onus on the President increased six points from 30% at the start of the month to 36% this weekend. In the last tracker, 42% give the responsibility to the GOP. But adding the 6% who say the Congressional Democrats are the biggest obstacle to the Obama percentage puts the responsibility for ending the shutdown equally on both Republicans and Democrats.

Congressional approval remains low: only 7% approve of how Congress is handling its job in this week’s poll. But Congress has been unpopular for a long time. The President, too, has seen little impact of the shutdown on his overall popularity. His approval rating this week, 41%, is at about the same level it has been for months.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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