Shutdown Anger Aimed Mostly at GOP

Recent polls suggest Republicans could be blamed for a government shutdown.

October 01, 2013, 4:04 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2013— -- The political consequences of a government shutdown are bad, and they're bad for everyone. But there's good evidence that it may be far worse for Republicans than for Democrats.

New polling out this week finds that Republicans are not winning either on their strategy or on the substance of the issue.

Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to shutting down the government in an attempt to block the implementation of the health care law -- 72 percent of Americans oppose the strategy and only 22 percent support it according to a new Quinnipiac Poll.

And they are basically split when it comes to how they feel about the law in general: 45 percent support the law and 47 percent oppose it.

That's not exactly a sturdy branch for Republicans to hang an unpopular government shutdown.

Democrats, believing they have the political upper hand, are doing what they can to make the political pain stick for Republicans for as long as possible.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a robo-call ad campaign Tuesday targeting 63 vulnerable Republicans for voting to "shut down the government" with last night's votes.

And the Democratic National Committee said that the last 24 hours of this shutdown debacle gave them the best fundraising windfall they've had all cycle.

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Republicans, on the other hand, have adopted a message that hammers Democrats for pushing an "unfair" health care law on the public.

"Democrats have slept through the ObamaCare alarm and the American people are paying the price," said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Rather than wake up to the dangers of ObamaCare, Democrats are hell-bent on forcing ObamaCare on everyone in America but themselves."

On the other hand, the headlines, images and stories coming out of the current shutdown simply paint a damaging picture of Washington dysfunction that voters appear to predominantly blame on Congressional Republicans.

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When asked by Quinnipiac whether Republicans are doing enough to compromise with President Obama, 42 percent of Republicans say they are doing too little compared to 20 percent of Democrats think Obama is doing too little to compromise.

Even when the question of funding for the government is taken out of the picture, voters say they don't believe lawmakers should try to defund the law to stop it.

And an ABC News-Washington Post released Tuesday found that 63 percent of Americans disapprove of Congressional Republicans' handling of the budget debate, compared with 50 percent who say the same of Obama.

These numbers alone should be reason enough to give the GOP pause.

A government shutdown tends to hit some important and reliable constituencies for both parties: veterans, the elderly, and women.

Both houses of Congress and Obama have already acted to exempt military pay from delays associated with the shutdown. And House Republicans plan to do more to exempt veteran services from other harmful effects, just like House Republicans did during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns.

Recognizing an attempt to dull some political fallout, Obama and Senate Democrats have rejected new proposals by the GOP to fund the government, suggesting that the approach forces Congress to make false choices between important priorities.

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There's also the political precedent of the 1995 and 1996 government shutdowns, which Democrats are eager to remind Republicans of.

As the political lore goes, the cumulative effect of two government shutdowns -- one that lasted more than three weeks -- was disastrous for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Congressional Republicans.

It was also a boon for President Clinton, who was reelected months later.

"So at the end of the day, Democrats won this blame game and Republicans didn't have much of a leg to stand on," said Sarah Binder a congressional expert and professor at George Washington University.

But a closer look at the long term political impact of those shutdowns show that show that Gingrich's approval rating took an initial hit but returned nearly to what they were before the shutdowns, according to ABC News/Washington Post polls and Gallup polls.

And in the 2006 election, Senate Democrats lost 2 seats and Democrats gained a net of just two seats in the House.

But Republicans would be wise to proceed with caution. In the Clinton-era, the economy was booming and the unemployment rate was a low 5.6 percent.

Today's economy is still struggling to recover after the economic recession.

And if Americans view Congress as standing in the way of recovery, they may be far less forgiving if this standoff is perceived as impacting their personal economic stability.

"It doesn't take too much to knock the wind out of this economy," Binder said. "I don't think time is on their side."

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