GOP Bears The Brunt Of Public Anger At Shutdown

By a slight margin, Americans think Republicans are to blame for the government shutdown, says Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. Dimock talks to host Rachel Martin about how the public is responding to the standoff in Congress.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The government has been shuttered for week now and the White House and Republicans in Congress continue to blame one another. So what do the American public think? Both sides in this debate think they have a lock on what the American people want. Here's President Obama speaking to NPR's MORNING EDITION this past week.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think what the American people have made clear and what I've made clear is that they do not believe ideological differences, the usual partisan politics around here, should result in a government shutdown.

MARTIN: On Friday, Speaker of the House John Boehner agreed with the President on that much, that the American people are not happy about the shutdown.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: This isn't some damn game. The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I.

MARTIN: To try to get some perspective, we called up Michael Dimock. He's the director of the Pew Research Center. I started by asking him how Americans are reacting to the shutdown.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: Anger is a strong word, but I think some people would use even stronger words if we let them speak for themselves. Frustration at the very least. There's a sense that this is just ridiculous, you know, the feeling that the system and the people we've hired to do their jobs just aren't doing them. And that's a very serious point of frustration for the public.

MARTIN: There was polling done back when the government shut down in 1996, 1996. What does that polling say about what we're experiencing now, if anything?

DIMOCK: Right. Again, that was a big point of frustration for the public and it certainly hurt the leaders' reputations and images in the short run, but the long-term implications weren't that serious at a public level. I think it was because there was no long-term or serious damage from that shutdown the public quickly moved on to the next question, which was an upcoming election cycle.

MARTIN: So here we are in this moment though. Who is bearing the brunt of the political backlash?

DIMOCK: Right. I think all indicators suggest that the Republicans are taking a little more heat for this than Democrats. Part of that is just structural. Congress is always going to be in a weaker position to argue a case than the president because Congress is a collective of people that doesn't always speak with one voice, whereas the president can speak more firmly with a singular voice.

The Republicans also came into this in lower esteem with the public, and often a crisis like this just reinforces people's prior views, and Obama had the upper hand in that regard coming into this. But right now the balance isn't that extreme. In 1995 the blame question, so to speak, was much more tilted against Republicans. This one is tilted a little big against Republicans, but it's also very early in this.

MARTIN: What about the very specific Republican strategy of linking opposition to Obamacare to budget negotiations? Is there any polling on how people feel about that?

DIMOCK: There is. There is polling on that and it's generally an unpopular idea. I mean, most Americans think that the budget deal should be negotiated separately from the health care law. A CBS poll done in the two days right after the shutdown started said 66 percent wanted the budget debate to be kept separate.

But among Republicans, a little over half said the two should be connected and among Tea Party Republicans it was a clear majority who said, no, these things need to be linked.

MARTIN: So if the lesson from the 1995-96 shutdown is that there weren't longstanding political implications, what does it mean in the short term politically for, especially Tea Party Republicans? Does this benefit them in their home districts?

DIMOCK: It can. I mean, Tea Party Republicans really have as strong feelings as other Americans, but in different ways. A Fox News survey conducted just after this started found only 30 percent of Americans think there could be anything good that comes out of this shutdown, but 71 percent of Tea Party Republicans think something good could come out of this shutdown.

They don't see shutting down the government as an inherently bad thing and they're looking for positive outcomes from this. They see the shutdown as a real strategic solution to some of the problems that they're concerned with.

MARTIN: And their constituents agree with them?

DIMOCK: Yes, yes.

MARTIN: Michael Dimock. He's the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington. Thanks so much for coming in, Michael.

DIMOCK: Thank you.

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