THE HILL POLL: On shutdown, more voters would blame Democrats

Twenty-nine percent of likely voters would blame Democrats for a government shutdown, compared to 23 percent who would hold Republicans responsible, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

The results are surprising because most people blamed the GOP for the last government shutdown, which occurred during President Clinton’s first term. A week before the 1995 shuttering, polls showed the public blamed Republicans by a two-to-one-margin.

The Hill’s survey, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, comes as lawmakers are heading into high-stakes spending negotiations that will seek to avert a shutdown.

Republicans have a substantial edge among independents: Thirty-four percent would blame Democrats, while only 19 percent would blame the GOP.

However, there are dangers for both parties, the poll indicates. A plurality of voters, 43 percent, would blame both Republicans and Democrats if the lights go out at midnight on March 5. Forty-five percent of respondents said neither party would benefit politically from a shutdown.

This compares to 14 percent who think Democrats would benefit and 18 percent who said Republicans would.

These numbers are fairly consistent when just Republicans, Democrats or independents are asked. Forty-seven percent of Republicans think that neither party would benefit, while 42 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents agree.

Democrats were able to win the message war 15 years ago, pinning the blame on congressional Republicans. A new shutdown message war has been under way for several weeks as each side jockeys for position. Republican and Democratic leaders moved closer to a short-term deal Friday, though the tentative budget framework has not yet been embraced by rank-and-file members.

The ability of Republicans to exact deep cuts and of Democrats to preserve cherished programs largely depends on whether they have the nerve to take negotiations over the brink.

Some GOP officials have feared, based on the history of the 1990s, they would be quickly blamed if Senate Democrats reject their calls for spending cuts and non-essential government employees are forced to stay home starting March 5.

The Hill’s poll suggests that, at least at this point, Democrats do not enjoy the tactical advantage that some assume they have.

Democrats would have the toughest time with men — 36 percent would blame Democrats, compared to 19 percent who would blame Republicans. Twenty-seven percent of women would blame Republicans, compared to 22 percent who would blame Democrats.

The Hill’s survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Feb. 23 and has a 3-point margin of error.

The Hill poll results are somewhat similar to a Feb. 22 Gallup poll, which found the public was divided on whether President Obama or Republicans were doing a better job trying to reach a budget agreement. That survey of 1,004 adults found 42 percent giving better marks to Republicans, compared to 39 percent for Obama.

They contrast with a Feb. 17-20 Public Policy Polling survey that gave an advantage to Obama over congressional Republicans if there is a shutdown. That poll of 1,002 registered voters found 41 percent would blame Republicans, 35 percent would blame Obama and 22 percent would blame both equally. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

The Feb. 22 Gallup poll found 60 percent of adults want a budget compromise rather than a shutdown, and The Hill’s poll shows voters continue to view a shutdown as a bad development.

Nearly half of those surveyed by The Hill, 47 percent, said a shutdown would have a negative effect. Twelve percent said it would have a positive impact, and 31 percent said it would have no impact.

Independents are more likely to say it will have a negative impact — 54 percent said so — compared to 51 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Republicans surveyed.

Sixty-three percent of self-identified liberals were far more likely to see a negative impact resulting from a shutdown than conservatives. Thirty-five percent of conservatives said it would have a negative impact, compared to 53 percent of centrists.

Although some Democrats have said that Social Security checks would be in jeopardy if there is a shutdown, the survey finds that senior citizens are less likely to see a negative impact than younger voters. Only 36 percent of seniors (those 65 and older) see a negative impact, compared to 51 percent of middle-aged voters (40-64) and 46 percent of young voters (18-39).