1 in 3 Voters Would Blame Congressional Republicans for a Shutdown
Survey conducted Sept. 21-24, 2023, among a representative sample of 1,969 registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. “Don’t know/No opinion” and “other” responses not shown.
Just over a third of voters (34%) said Republicans in Congress would be mostly to blame for a government shutdown, while 23% would blame President Joe Biden and 21% would blame Democrats in Congress.
But 46% of voters said fighting between Democrats and Republicans is to blame for the shutdown brinkmanship, at odds with the reality of Republican infighting on Capitol Hill.
The finding suggests Republicans have been able to rely on voters’ meager awareness of their own infighting to keep some of the public’s blame on the other side of the aisle. In the event of an elongated shutdown, they are unlikely to be able to do so, threatening the modest gains the GOP has made since Biden took office on voters' perceptions of its ability to govern.
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With days before a potential government shutdown, few voters are highly aware of the potential impasse as House Republicans work to overcome intraparty divisions to fund the government past Sept. 30. However, voters are willing to cast blame, and the bulk of it is not yet being directed at House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s Republican majority.
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According to our survey, just over a third of voters (34%) said Republicans in Congress would be mostly to blame for a government shutdown, while 23% would blame President Joe Biden and 21% would blame Democrats in Congress. Taken together, the latter two figures account for 44% of the electorate, with another 28% unsure.
As with many things involving the internal gears of Washington, the data also shows that many voters haven’t been paying attention to news out of Capitol Hill in recent weeks about the prospects of a government shutdown even after a bit of a recent uptick, potentially explaining why they have assigned more blame to Biden and his party to date.
Few Voters Have Heard “a Lot” About a Potential Shutdown
Our Sept. 21-24 survey found that less than a quarter of voters (23%) said they had seen, read or heard “a lot” about the potential government shutdown. A similar share (22%) said the same of government funding talks in a separate survey conducted over the weekend, up from 15% the prior week. Democrats, who are usually most likely to hear about mainstream news events, were almost twice as likely as Republicans to say they’d heard a lot about the prospects for a shutdown (31% to 17%).
In turn, voters who are more aware of the news are more likely to say there’s a risk of a potential government shutdown on Oct. 1 because Republicans are unable to come to an agreement with other Republican lawmakers, but even these voters are willing to cast at least some blame on the other side of the aisle.
Voters Most Likely to Blame Both Sides for the Stalled Funding Talks
Voters who are closely tracking the shutdown news are 21 percentage points more likely to blame Republican infighting for bringing the nation to the brink of a shutdown, while a third blame disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, compared with almost half of the overall electorate. Roughly 1 in 5 voters are not sure who to blame.
The bottom line
In advance of the Sept. 30 deadline, Republicans have been able to rely on voters’ limited awareness of their own budgetary infighting to keep some of the public’s blame on the other side of the aisle. Some of this is to be expected given partisanship and independent voters’ dislike for the party in power.
However, the GOP is unlikely to be able to rely on a lack of voter attention to obscure its internal divisions if infighting in the House conference closes the government’s doors. As evidenced by surveys we conducted in 2019 — when then-President Donald Trump shut the government down over his border wall — his side of the aisle took more blame as more Americans became attuned to the news.
If the government does shut down for any notable period of time, our data suggests it could threaten the modest gains Republicans have made since Biden took office when it comes to voters' perceptions of its ability to govern, according to our annual State of the Parties survey.
Eli Yokley is Morning Consult’s U.S. politics analyst. Eli joined Morning Consult in 2016 from Roll Call, where he reported on House and Senate campaigns after five years of covering state-level politics in the Show Me State while studying at the University of Missouri in Columbia, including contributions to The New York Times, Politico and The Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter @eyokley. Interested in connecting with Eli to discuss his analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].