Rick Berman

As the national debt spirals out of control – it just passed the $13 trillion mark and shows no sign of slowing down – those up for election should heed one piece of advice: You ignore the debt at your own peril.

Gallup confirmed that in a poll earlier this month. They found that 79 percent of respondents described the federal deficit as “extremely serious” or “very serious.” That puts the federal deficit in a tie with terrorism and national security as the issue voters are most concerned about.

As Election Day nears, voters grow more and more concerned about the deficit. Last month, Scott Rasmussen found that 81 percent of Americans “view the size of the deficit as a major problem.” That’s no surprise, given the chaos in the European Union, where overspending by Greece has put that country at risk of national default.

Rush Limbaugh

Who do Americans blame for this country’s debt problems? Well, that’s a little more complicated.

Needless to say, there’s a partisan split when it comes to fingering the culprits. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats blame George W. Bush and the GOP, while 80 percent of Republicans polled blame President Obama and the Democrats. The all-important independents blame Republicans over Democrats 53 percent to 36 percent.

One of the recent primaries indicate that the national debt is certainly on voters’ minds. In Kentucky, Rand Paul was able to triumph over the Republican establishment’s choice in large part because of his avowed commitment to fiscal responsibility. His victory can, in part, be attributed to an anti-establishment attitude, but the grassroots, Tea Party-based support that he garnered largely coalesced around his anti-spending rhetoric. He supports raising the Social Security retirement age and praised the senator he is running to replace for blocking the extension of unemployment benefits earlier this year.

Given his post-primary gaffes – Paul refused to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on national television and described criticism of British Petroleum for their role in the Gulf Coast oil spill as “un-American” – it’s a sign of how deep public distrust of government spending is that the latest Rasmussen poll still has him leading Democrat Jack Conway by eight points. The Real Clear Politics average – including polls by Rasmussen, Daily Kos, and SurveyUSA – has Paul up by 5.7 percent.

Rick Berman

Rick Berman is the President of Berman and Company, a Washington, D.C.–based public affairs firm specializing in research, communications, and creative advertising.