Rooting for deliberate harm is a bad idea

Rooting for deliberate harm is a bad idea
Rooting for deliberate harm is a bad idea

We talked last week about the importance of ignoring debt-ceiling polls. Since so much of the public has no idea what the debt ceiling is, what default is, what bond markets are, or what the full faith and credit of the United States means, polling on the subject just doesn’t tell us much.

That said, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll pushed the issue in an interesting direction, and came up with results that amazed me.

As you can see in this image that ABC published online (pdf), respondents were asked to choose between raising the debt limit and letting the country default. Respondents were nearly evenly split, which doesn’t much matter since so many Americans are confused about the basics.

But then respondents were asked what would happen if the United States pierced the debt ceiling and defaulted, and that’s where the results get bizarre. A whopping 73% of the public agreed that this outcome would “seriously harm” the nation’s economy.

And that leads to an unsettling realization: if the poll is correct, there’s a pretty large chunk of the population that believes failing to raise the debt ceiling would hurt the country badly, but they’re prepared to see that happen anyway.

Who actually thinks this way? I’m glad you asked.

Greg Sargent checked in with the Post’s polling team and got the unsettling results.

* Republicans are far more likely to oppose raising the debt limit than anyone else; they say don’t raise it by 61-25. By contrast, Dems say raise it by 62-31, and independents split by 48-46 on raising versus not raising it.

* Republicans, however, also believe overwhelmingly that not raising it would cause serious economic harm – by 66-27. (Dems and indys tilt the same way.)

* How to square that? Simple: Among Republicans who believe not raising it would cause serious economic harm, a majority say don’t raise it by 53-32.

There are a group of people I call “default deniers” – folks who simply don’t understand reality well enough to recognize the dangers posed by a debt-ceiling breach. There are, alas, default deniers in Congress, as we were reminded yesterday.

“I am,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) told POLITICO, when asked if he’s willing to forgo raising the debt ceiling without a delay to Obamacare. “Technically, it’s not possible to default because there’s always enough revenue to cover the interest. If we defaulted it was because the president chose to default, not because we ran out of money.”

Fleming said “nothing happens” if the debt ceiling is reached. Asked about market fallout, Fleming insisted both parties will suffer equally at the hands of irate American votes. “We all pay a price for that,” Fleming said.

As a substantive matter, this is dangerously crazy, especially from an elected lawmaker in Congress.

But the poll isn’t talking about default deniers; it’s talking about people who recognize the threat but welcome the negative consequences anyway.

The fact that there’s a radical contingent within the Republican Party’s base isn’t new, but this is more than a little scary.