The Corner

This Time It’s Different?

According to a new poll commissioned by The Hill, more likely voters would blame Democrats for a government shutdown than would blame Republicans:


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.

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

There is, of course, the matter of the other 43 percent, who would blame both parties.

I think the lesson from 1995 is that clear, consistent, aggressive, and sensible messaging is the key to winning the battle of public opinion attrition that would result from a shutdown (others might say the lesson is: don’t shut down the government). Both sides took lumps in that fight, but Bill Clinton was the last man standing.

Could things work out differently this time? Well, Obama enjoys the same messaging advantages the presidency afforded Clinton, but is half the communicator. And one thing the raw numbers in the poll fail to capture is that the energizing effects on the parties’ respective bases would likely be asymmetric: Republicans holding fast on a shutdown would rouse the Tea Party, it’s hard to think of an agglomeration of Democratic constituencies that would be as charged by it. 

Of course, President Obama doesn’t need to be Bill Clinton; he only needs to be better than John Boehner. And a heartened Tea Party might not be enough if a prolonged shutdown bleeds the GOP of the independents that carried them to victory in 2010.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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