One in three Americans would take a government shutdown over an increase to the debt ceiling

September 29, 2021, 8:45 PM UTC

Many Americans are ready to see their federal government shut down, rather than see the debt ceiling raised. Republicans are especially likely to oppose raising the debt ceiling to keep the Democratic-controlled federal government running, as are people who don’t expect to be personally affected by the shutdown. Those people who don’t expect a shutdown to impact them are disproportionately likely to be Republicans.

Most of the public is aware that without raising the debt ceiling, the government is expected to shut down, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. And in a question that included a reminder that past governments routinely have raised the debt ceiling to avert shutdown, opposition to raising the debt ceiling was roughly equal to support.

News consumption on the debt ceiling also is tied to opinion. The more attention Democrats and Independents have paid to news about the debt ceiling, the more likely they are to support raising it. That pattern is not quite as clear for Republicans. One reason might be that members of different parties differ in what news they consume: Fox News is the top cable news channel for 40% of Republicans, but just 17% of Independents, and 7% of Democrats. MSNBC is the most watched cable news channel for 2% of Republicans, 7% of Independents, and 22% of Democrats.

Shutdown

This isn’t just a political exercise: Many Americans think a shutdown would affect them personally. One in three say they are definitely or probably likely to be affected personally, as many as say that is unlikely; another one-third of Americans find it “hard to say.” The perception of personal effect also differs by party: 43% of Democrats believe they are likely to be personally affected by a shutdown, compared with just a quarter of Republicans. 

Worry about the federal budget deficit is closely tied to views on the debt ceiling. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about the deficit’s size, and one-third are very concerned. People who are very concerned about the deficit are four times as likely to oppose raising the debt limit as they are to support it. 

While seniors might seem particularly affected by the threat of a shutdown, as many people 65 and older doubt they would be personally affected by a government shutdown as think they probably would be affected. 

Democratic senior citizens are much more likely than Republicans in that age group to believe they might be hurt in a shutdown. Most adults in that age group currently are receiving Social Security payments, which could be stopped in a government shutdown. However, in previous shutdowns, steps have been taken to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. Adult Citizens interviewed online between September 26 - 28, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty