WASHINGTON Americans overwhelmingly are concerned about the U.S. debt crisis and a majority backs the type of compromise pushed by President Barack Obama, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found on Tuesday.
Showing an intensity of interest among Americans who often ignore the intricacies of policy in Washington, 83 percent of those polled said they were either very or somewhat concerned about the potential for a U.S. debt default on August 2.
The poll found that 56 percent of Americans want to see a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases included in a deal to bring down the U.S. budget deficit and permit a vote to raise the country's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
This is the approach favored by Obama and his fellow Democrats to begin to put America's fiscal house in order.
Republicans oppose tax increases and instead want to cut back deeply on spending, saying the federal budget has gotten out of control.
"It does seem to be that the popular narrative is falling on the side of the president on this one," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
In the poll, 19 percent said the best approach is only to cut existing programs, and 12 percent said only raising taxes would be the favored solution.
Obama's Democrats and their Republican rivals have so far failed to forge agreement and are pursuing competing debt plans to avert a potentially disastrous default.
The gridlock alarmed investors worldwide. U.S. stocks and the dollar fell while gold hovered near record highs. There was no hint of panic, however, as markets held out hope the stalemate could still be broken.
WHO'S TO BLAME?
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 31 percent of respondents held Republican lawmakers responsible for the debt impasse, 21 percent blamed Obama and 9 percent blamed Democratic lawmakers.
Along those lines, 29 percent said Republican lawmakers should give the most ground in the negotiations, a quarter said Obama should and a fifth said Democrats should.
The debt debate has potential consequences for the 2012 election year when Obama is seeking a second term as president.
People who identified themselves as political independents, who Obama needs to win re-election, tended to side with the Republicans. The poll found that 29 percent of independents said Obama should give the most ground in the negotiations, while 13 percent said Republicans should.
Pollster Clark said the fact that 83 percent of Americans said they were concerned about the debt issue, including 54 percent who were very concerned, was surprising and showed how seriously people are taking the issue.
"I know the economy is the No. 1 issue for Americans right now but I didn't think that these talks were going to be of such importance and concern to the public," she said.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 600 adults, including 512 registered voters, had a margin of error of 4 percentage points for all respondents and 4.3 percentage points for registered voters. It was conducted overnight on Monday.
The United States will lose its top-notch AAA credit rating from at least one major ratings agency, according to another Reuters poll on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Alistair Bell)