If a shutdown occurs, Justin Castro, a National Park Service ranger, would be furloughed from his post at the Oklahoma City National Memorial which would stay open.
If a shutdown occurs, Justin Castro, a National Park Service ranger, would be furloughed from his post at the Oklahoma City National Memorial which would stay open. Sue Ogrocki/AP
As President Obama and congressional leaders try to reach a spending agreement to forestall a partial shutdown of the federal government as soon as midnight Friday, they obviously are trying to discern the political tea leaves.
Of particular interest to both Democratic and Republican policymakers is the opinion of political independents, those voters who can make or break congressional majorities and White House bids.
Recent polls suggest that independents would be displeased by a shutdown. A significant majority of those voters want the sides to reach a compromise that keeps the government fully functioning.
And here's another wrinkle. There appears to be a significant Republican divide on the issue with a large percentage of more moderate Republicans wanting a compromise too.
That's a contrast with Democrats who are more united, generally favoring compromise.
That suggests that while both Democrats and Republicans could be hurt by a shutdown, especially if a significant bloc of independent voters comes to blame one side or the other for the crisis, Republicans could be a little more vulnerable.
But it's still too early to know for sure how this will all play out politically. Indeed, it's still possible a shutdown can be avoided. President Obama invited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker John Boehner back to the White House Thursday evening.
In any event, what do the data say about independents.
In a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, when independents were asked if Democrats should compromise to reach a deal, 76 percent of them said they should.
When independents were asked if Republicans should compromise, 65 percent of independents essentially said yes. The difference in the responses of independents when they were asked about Republican versus Democratic policymakers could be due to independents generally tilting more toward Republicans than Democrats.
A recent Gallup Poll provides a similar message. Sixty percent of independents want a compromise between the partisans that leads to a budget deal. Gallup said its survey results were virtually identical to those in February.
A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this week also showed the same basic tendency though it wasn't as strong in the other two polls. Fifty three percent of independents wanted a compromise.
While the Pew poll indicated that the respondents would blame both parties equally for a shutdown, Pew's pollsters noted there are fewer differences among Democrats than Republicans on the budget-fight issue.
Republicans are divided over whether to stand on principle or accept a budget they disagree with. Half of Republicans (50%) say lawmakers who share their views should stand by their principles even if that means the government shuts down; 43% say lawmakers should be more willing to compromise, even if that results in a budget they disagree with...
Democrats are far more unified: 69% say lawmakers who share their views should be more willing to compromise even if that means they pass a budget they disagree with. There are no substantive differences in the views of liberal Democrats and the party's conservatives and moderates. Independents also say lawmakers should be more willing to compromise (by 53% to 38%).
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the NBC News/WSJ survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, was quoted in accompanying WSJ story saying that the survey results pointed to a very tricky situation for Republicans.
When Republicans are combined with independents, forming the universe of people that GOP lawmakers are most eager to appeal to at election time, opinion is evenly split—48% to 47%—between those advising compromises against those urging political leaders to stick to their positions, even if it results in no budget agreement.
"That's a very precarious gap to negotiate," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster and co-director of the Journal/NBC News poll, who did daily polling for then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996.
Again, it's unclear which party would get the blame for a government shutdown. A reasonable argument could be made that Republicans could be hurt more since, of the two parties, Republicans have the reputation as the anti-government party.
House Republicans tried to insulate themselves against blame on Thursday by passing a new stopgap spending bill that would fund the government for an additional week.
It contained $12 billion in additional spending cuts for the fiscal year 2011 which ends in September. It also would fund the military for the rest of the year.
But President Obama has warned he would veto that bill and it's unlikely to get out of the Senate anyway.