More would blame Congressional GOP than President Obama for gov’t shutdown

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 28-02-2011-05-2008

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In our State of the Nation poll last week, we asked respondents the following two questions:

• On March 5th, the federal government will shut down if President Obama and Republicans in Congress cannot agree on a budget. If the government does shut down, who would you blame more: President Obama, the Republicans in Congress, or both equally?

• Would you consider a shutdown of the federal government to be a good thing or a bad thing for the country?

Second things first: By a very clear 62-26 margin, voters think that a government shutdown would be a bad thing. This opposition is found consistently across all demographics but one: only teabaggers, by a 47-38 plurality, are in favor of seeing government offices close. (When they say “hands off my Medicare,” they really mean it!) Depth of sentiment does vary between groups: Republicans in general dislike the idea of a shutdown by a 35-50 margin, while Dems are against, 17-71.

Feelings are a lot more closely divided on the first question, though: Overall, 35% would blame President Obama more for a shutdown, while 41% would find greater fault with Congressional Republicans. The D vs. R divide on this one is predictable, but notably, independents narrowly side against the GOP, 38-33, and self-described moderates blame the GOP even more, by a 48-22 margin.

These questions can be tricky to parse, though. I asked our pollster Tom Jensen to run an additional cross-tab (PDF), and of that 35% who say they’d “blame” Obama more, they support a government shutdown by a 63-24 margin! That doesn’t mean this contingent is about to start liking Obama if there’s a shutdown. Rather, Tom says, he thinks “it’s more of an issue of the kind of people who think a shutdown is a good thing hate Obama and are going to ‘blame’ him for anything when asked about it on a poll… even if it’s something they don’t think is bad.” I agree, and I think this demonstrates exactly how difficult it can be to word questions on this general topic. (If I were going to ask this again, I might try saying “whom would you hold more responsible,” rather than just “blame,” but even that is imperfect.)

Or in the case of Rasmussen, how easy it is to manipulate wording to get the results you desire. As TPM elucidates, Rasmussen managed to find voters favoring a shutdown by a 58-33 margin – but only because they presented it as a false either-or question (with the only options being to preserve current spending levels or face a shutdown). Rasmussen also primed its respondents with a few leading questions beforehan, which helped them reach the exact opposite conclusion from Gallup, who found respondents, by 60 to 32, opposed to a shutdown. Note that Gallup interviewed all adults, while Ramussen tested likely voters. (PPP interviewed registered voters.) Still, I think question wording rather than sampling accounts for much of the difference here.

It’s also a good reason to be skeptical of The Hill’s new poll, which asked a question similar to our own. The Hill used Pulse Opinion Research – aka New Rasmussen. POR is an outfit that Rasmussen pushed out last cycle, which allows anyone with a credit card to commission an automated survey. As Mark Blumenthal explained, “While the questions asked on specific surveys may differ, the underlying methodology used by Fox/Pulse and Rasmussen are essentially identical.” The Hill doesn’t seem to have made their question wording publicly available – all they say is that 29% of likely voters “would blame Democrats for a government shutdown,” while 23% “would blame Republicans.”

Still, regardless of which way these early polls lean, I think we may see big shifts if there is indeed a shutdown, just as we saw with healthcare last cycle. Then, you’ll undoubtedly recall, polling was much more favorable toward Dems before the battle began, but got worse as the fight got hotter. Who knows how things might play out this time, but right now, this issue is not squarely before the public. Once it is, it’s anybody’s game.

UPDATE: Please check out dreaminonempty’s excellent diary exploring these questions as well. Dreamin’ has some great graphics that try to tease apart the weird dichotomy I referenced above – folks rooting for the shutdown who nonetheless “blame” (or give credit to) Obama. Here’s one excellent visual summary:


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