04/07/2011 01:47 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2011

New Polls: Tea Party Roadblock To Budget Compromise

WASHINGTON -- Two new national polls confirm the political underpinnings of the ongoing budget stalemate: Most independent and Democratic voters want leaders to compromise and reach a budget deal, but the Republican's Tea Party base wants the GOP to stick to a hard-line position -- even if that could force a government shutdown.

The new polls released yesterday by Gallup and the NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling partnership support the results published by the Pew Research Center earlier this week. "The American public," as Gallup explains, "has clearly and consistently expressed a desire for elected officials in Washington to pass a new fiscal year budget without bringing government operations to a halt."

So why the stalemate? Tabulations by party provide the answer:


As the table above shows, slightly better than two-thirds of Democrats want their leaders to compromise on the budget (support ranges from 68 to 69 percent) rather than force a shutdown. Similarly, the majority of independents also want lawmakers of both parties to compromise: between 53 to 76 percent support a deal. But Republicans are split, with more urging their leaders to stick to their positions (between 50 and 56 percent), rather than supporting a compromise to avert a shutdown (between 36 and 44 percent).

Two of these surveys identify Tea Party Republicans as the most resistant to compromise. Both the Pew Research and NBC/Wall Street Journal polls show exactly 68 percent of Tea Party members want the Republican leaders to stick to their positions, while both polls found only 28 percent favor compromise. On the other hand, Republicans who do not identify with the Tea Party on the Pew Research poll favor compromise by a two-to-one margin: 56 percent to 26 percent. (The third survey, from Gallup, did not report results for Tea Party identifiers.)

It is this kind of political pressure from the Republican base that, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "has prompted the Republican-led House to approve a bill calling for $61 billion in budget cuts in the current fiscal year, far more than Democratic lawmakers want."

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll also confirms that Americans are divided and uncertain about whom they might blame if a government shutdown occurs. Roughly the same number say they would blame the Republicans in Congress (37 percent) as say they would blame either President Obama (20 percent) or the Democrats in Congress (20 percent). That result is about the same as the outcomes of three polls conducted by Pew Research and the Washington Post last month, which also asked about "blame" for a potential shutdown.

(Other polls find more Americans ready to give "responsibility" to the Republicans. More details on those polls can be found here.)

But as Nate Silver points out this morning, most Americans are not yet focused on the budget story. Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducts the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll with Democrat Peter Hart, warns that the "blame" numbers may change. A government shutdown "will feel out of the blue," he tells the Journal. "This is a country that is not ready."

Americans may not be able to accurately predict their future attitudes, but pollsters can measure current perceptions of which party holds the higher ground in the budget battle.

The results from Gallup on that score are mixed. When they ask who is "doing a better job on efforts to agree on a new federal budget," they find more Americans name President Obama and Democrats in Congress (41 percent) than Republicans in Congress (34 percent).

The Republican number on that question has actually fallen eight points, from 42 percent, since mid-February, according to Gallup. Over the same period, the number for Obama and the Democrats has risen slightly, up from 39 percent.

On the other hand, two questions on yesterday's Gallup survey show that more Americans think that the budget proposals from Obama and the Democrats "do not go far enough in cutting federal spending" (45 percent) than think the GOP proposals "go too far in cutting federal spending" (32 percent).

But again, a real shutdown will raise the profile of the budget story considerably. The last government shutdown, in late 1995 and early 1996, caused the number of Americans following news about the budget debate "very closely" to nearly double (from 20 percent to 36 percent), while the number following the story "fairly" or "very closely" jumped by 19 points (from 55 percent to 74 percent) on the Pew Research tracking poll.

With that sort of increased spotlight, judgments about blame and performance are very much subject to change.