Poll: Americans Oppose Raising the Debt Ceiling Even If U.S. Defaults and Say Government Wastes 60 Cents of Every Tax Dollar

The public says Obama disappoints on transparency and that Congress passes too many laws. It's split on Snowden, trusts Facebook less than the IRS on privacy, and opposes a bailout for Detroit.


With the federal government expected to hit its debt limit in mid-October, 70 percent of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling, the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds. In fact, 55 percent of Americans say they do not support raising the debt ceiling even if it causes the U.S. to default on its debt.

If equal spending cuts accompany an increase in the debt ceiling, 45 percent say they'd support raising it and 46 percent would oppose. Thirty-five percent favor raising the debt ceiling in exchange for cutting off funding to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, with 56 percent opposed.

Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of Americans feel members of Congress are out of touch with their constituents when it comes to federal spending.  Seventy-six percent of Americans believe the federal government spends too much money, 11 percent say it spends the right amount, and seven percent say it spends too little.

In response to open-ended questions, Americans told Reason-Rupe the government wastes 60 cents out of every dollar they pay in federal taxes and they'd cut federal spending by 30 percent across the board.

Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) 2013 budget plan aims to balance the federal budget over 10 years, but Reason-Rupe finds the public wants it done sooner than that. In fact, 40 percent of Americans say Congress should balance the budget immediately, 32 percent say the budget should be balanced over five years, 16 percent feel it should be balanced over 10 years, and seven percent say Congress should not worry about balancing the budget.



Sixty-four percent of Americans say if a member of Congress does not agree with them on federal spending they'd describe that member as "extreme."

A majority of Americans, 56 percent, believe Congress passes too many laws. And more than two-thirds of Americans, 67 percent, say Congress passes the "wrong kinds of laws." Yet, 69 percent also say partisan gridlock is preventing Congress from getting  more things done and 67 percent would like Congress to compromise more, even if they don't like the resulting legislation.

NSA Spying and the Obama Administration's Transparency

President Obama has said, "This is the most transparent administration in history." However, 63 percent of Americans say they disagree with the president's transparency claim. Furthermore, 61 percent say the Obama administration has not lived up to their expectations on transparency. Three in 10 say the administration has met their transparency expectations, and seven percent say the administration has exceeded their expectations on transparency.

However, a majority of Americans, 55 percent, say the steady stream of government surveillance stories coming from Edward Snowden's leaks have not changed the way they view the federal government. Thirty-four percent say the National Security Agency surveillance revelations have decreased their trust in the government and eight percent say it has increased their trust in government.

The public is split on whether or not Mr. Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Thirty-nine percent say Snowden is a "traitor for leaking government secrets" and 35 percent say he is a "patriot" for letting the public know about the government's surveillance programs.

More Americans say the NSA data collection program is a violation of privacy (55 percent) than say it is needed to fight terrorism (33 percent). Nevertheless, the public is mixed on whether other government agencies should have access to the data the NSA collects, and they are selective about which agencies should get the data. Forty-five percent of Americans say the NSA should share private information with the Drug Enforcement Administration in non-terrorism related cases, while the same number say it should not share the information. 

The numbers change dramatically for agencies searching for a missing child. In that case, 68 percent of Americans say the NSA should share any information it may have collected with other government agencies. Only a quarter of Americans say the NSA should not share information in the case of a missing child. However, when it comes to sharing information with the Internal Revenue Service, only 28 percent think the NSA should be allowed to share its information, while 65 percent say sharing with the IRS should not be allowed. 

Trusting Facebook, Google and the IRS

It's not all bad news for the IRS, however. More people trust the IRS to protect their privacy than trust Facebook or Google to do the same.

Over six in 10 Americans, 61 percent, say they do not trust Facebook "at all" to protect their privacy and another 15 percent say they only trust Facebook "a little." Google has similar trust problems with 48 percent saying they do not trust the company  to protect their privacy at all and 19 percent say they trust Google a little. For comparison, 45 percent of Americans say they do not trust the IRS to protect their privacy at all and 18 percent trust the IRS a little. Four in 10 Americans do not trust the NSA to protect their privacy and 19 percent trust the agency a little.

Pensions and Detroit

With Detroit's recent bankruptcy filing, 31 percent of Americans say the federal government should help bail out Detroit, while 65 percent say the federal government should not.

Part of Detroit's fiscal problems stem from pension and retiree health care costs. When asked what their city should do in a similar budget situation, 73 percent of Americans oppose raising taxes to fund government workers' retirements. However, 78 percent of Americans support requiring government workers to contribute more towards their own pensions and benefits, and 63 percent favor cutting the benefits government workers receive.

As more cities grapple with pension problems, Reason-Rupe finds 70 percent of Americans support switching future government employees, who have not been promised benefits yet, from guaranteed pensions to 401(k) retirement plans.


About the Poll

The Reason-Rupe poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1,013  adults on mobile [509] and landline [504] phones from September 4-8, 2013. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.7  percent. The poll's sample was made up of 38 percent independents, 29 percent Democrats, and 23 percent Republicans (10 percent said "other" or did not know).