Americans are more likely than not to think that furloughed federal employees should receive back pay whenever the government shutdown is over, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.
The poll found that 47 percent of respondents believe government employees who aren't able to work during the shutdown should be paid for the time they miss, while 38 percent said they should not be. Another 15 percent weren't sure.
The survey showed a sharp divide along party lines on the back pay issue. By a 64 percent to 21 percent margin, most Democrats said furloughed workers should be paid for the time they miss. By a 55 percent to 29 percent margin, most Republicans said they should not be. Independents were about evenly divided, with 42 percent supporting and 44 percent opposing back pay.
The plurality support for paying furloughed employees comes despite the fact that 45 percent of respondents said they have an unfavorable opinion of government employees, while 39 percent said they have a favorable opinion.
Roughly 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay due to the government shutdown. Paying them retroactively after the furloughs end requires an act of Congress, whose members are paid throughout the shutdown no matter what. After the last shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, Congress decided to grant workers back pay for the time they missed.
Republican senators polled informally by HuffPost earlier this week seemed split on whether to give furloughed workers back pay once Congress finally passes a spending bill. Such legislation is nonetheless likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said a back pay bill will get a vote in the House, indicating it's likely to pass there as well.
Of course, politicians who opposed back pay would risk looking callous after a government shutdown they had created. The overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of the shutdown, and many of them sympathize with federal workers forced to go an unknown number of days without income due to political squabbling. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told HuffPost on Tuesday, "Why penalize these good people for [Congress'] malfeasance?"
The back pay issue underscores just how wasteful and counterproductive a government shutdown can be, as Congress will likely end up paying for work that Congress itself prevented from being performed.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Oct. 1-2 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.