President Obama holds a stronger political position than Republicans entering the end-game of their standoff over the debt ceiling, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll has found.
The survey shows Obama with the upper hand on both the issue of raising the debt ceiling itself, and on the related deficit-reduction policy choices that have so far produced partisan stalemate.
Fully 55% of Americans believe Congress' failure to raise the debt ceiling would be a "real and serious problem." By 49%-43%, respondents given the two parties' rival arguments said the the debt ceiling should be raised.
On the process of negotiations, seven in 10 independents want Democratic leaders to compromise in search of an agreement. Six in 10 Democrats agree.
Nearly seven in 10 independents also want Republican leaders to compromise. But a 52% majority of Republicans want their elected leaders to "stick to their positions".
That shows Republican politicians squeezed between the wishes of swing voters who will decide the 2012 general election, and a party base that could punish GOP incumbents in primaries if they yield too much.
A similar dynamic plays out on related budget issues. By 58% to 36%, Americans prefer Obama's deficit reduction approach of combining spending cuts with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy over the GOP's plan to cut spending only.
A 52% majority said Democrats should not accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security if that were the only way to strike a debt ceiling deal. But 62% say Republicams should agree to tax hikes if necessary to make a deal.
The poll shows that Obama remains vulnerable in the 2012 election. With only one-quarter of Americans expecting the economy to improve over the next year, the president's approval rating ticked down to 47% from 49% in June.
He leads GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in a prospective 2012 match-up by 48% to 41%. He enjoys a lead twice that large against Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Tea Party favorite who recently entered the race.
Among GOP voters, Romney leads with 30% to 16% for Bachmann and 11% for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who appears leaning toward entering the race.
Among other candidates, the favorite of libertarian Republicans, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, drew 9%; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 8%; business executive Herman Cain 5%; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania 3%; former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota 2%; and former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah 2%.
The telephone survey of 1,000 adults, conducted July 14-17, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.