Irked By Shutdown And Stalemate, Most Still Oppose Compromise

As the federal government shutdown stretches into its second week, a new poll shows widespread public frustration. But the majority of people polled by the Pew Research Center say they would not want their side to give ground on whether or not to defund or delay the health law, even if it was the only way to end the shutdown soon. Robert Siegel talks to Pew's Michael Dimock about the new poll numbers on public sentiment and the government shutdown.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One week into the federal shutdown and the reviews are coming in in the form of public opinion polls. The Pew Research Center has a new poll out today that shows widespread public frustration, but also deep partisan differences about how to relieve that frustration. Michael Dimock is the director of the Pew Center. Welcome to the program once again.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: I gather the answer to the question, whom do you blame for the shutdown is that depends on which people you ask.

DIMOCK: Well, it certainly does. I mean, Republicans blame Obama and the Democrats blame the Republicans. On balance, nationwide, there is a bit more blame on the Republicans than Obama: 38 percent in the poll we just finished say the Republicans are mostly to blame; 30 percent blame Obama. That's a slim margin of blame toward Republicans but much narrower than we saw in 1995, when Republicans were trailing Clinton by 20-plus points on a similar question.

SIEGEL: Most people blamed House Republicans, you're saying, in that particular shutdown.

DIMOCK: That's right. At about the same time, Republicans were definitely taking more blame.

SIEGEL: We've just been hearing about the looming debt ceiling and you asked people about that. And you found, to cite a headline from your poll, 4 in 10 say the government can go past debt limit. You mean to just blow through it?

DIMOCK: Well, they think we can go past the deadline without major problems. But 47 percent, a few more, say that it is essential to deal with this debt fix before the deadline to avoid a crisis in our economy. This was similar to something we saw in 2011 going into the debt ceiling. For a lot of Americans, this is a very opaque issue and it's hard to understand the implications of it.

SIEGEL: Here's a discouraging answer. You asked people, first, should President Obama change health care to achieve a deal? And also, should Republicans drop their demands for health care changes for deal? And those two questions polled about the same number of yeses, in the 40s, but both short of a majority.

DIMOCK: Yes, right. The same thing that's locking up Congress is dividing the public. Who should give ground on the issue of attaching health care to a budget deal? Forty-two percent say Obama should give ground. Forty-four percent say Republicans should give ground. And there's very little room to compromise in the political bases. Most Democrats say it would be unacceptable for Obama to back down on this. But most Republicans say it would be unacceptable for their party leaders to back down on this. And that's where we are right now.

SIEGEL: You're saying, in effect, this logjam didn't descend upon us from heaven. This is a conflict in our society, as well.

DIMOCK: It is a conflict in society. The source is unclear. I mean, they may be hearing what their political leaders are saying. But their political leaders are certainly also hearing what they're saying.

SIEGEL: You asked a question about the Tea Party. Are Republican leaders paying too much attention to them? Most Democrats say yes. But I was surprised at how few Republicans do. Only, I think, 18 percent said they're paying too much attention to the Tea Party.

DIMOCK: Yeah, that's right. We've been hearing a lot in coverage of Capitol Hill and from political leaders in Washington about concerns in the Republican Party that the Tea Party is holding too much sway. Well, in the general Republican electorate nationwide, that's not that widespread a concern. Only 18 percent of Republicans think the Tea Party is getting too much attention from leadership. Forty percent think it's right and 24 percent still say there's too little attention to the Tea Party.

Even Republicans who themselves don't agree with the Tea Party don't really express a lot of concern about too much Tea Party influence.

SIEGEL: What do you make of the answers you got when you asked people if they're being personally affected by the government shutdown?

DIMOCK: It's interesting. Twenty-eight percent of the people we interviewed over the weekend said they've been personally inconvenienced by this, 15 percent in a major way inconvenienced by this shutdown. That's a lot more than polls found in the 1995-'96 shutdowns, when only about 16 percent said that it was an inconvenience to them. And that's bipartisan - Republicans, Democrats, young, old - it's sort of a very general sense that this thing is happening and affecting people's lives directly.

SIEGEL: And yet, we carefully refer to it as a partial government shutdown because it's not total.

DIMOCK: That's right. And, you know, most people say that it hasn't affected them and that's always important to keep in mind. Seventy-one percent of the people that we interviewed say it hasn't inconvenienced them at all.

SIEGEL: Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, thanks so much for talking with us about today's poll.

DIMOCK: Thank you.

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