POLITICS
12/26/2018 02:47 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2018

Here's What Americans Make Of The Partial Government Shutdown

No one in Washington comes out looking great, but Democrats fare less badly.

President Trump, Congress, and members of both parties all get negative marks for their initial handling of the partial government shutdown, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey. Democrats in Congress, however, fare substantially less badly than their GOP equivalents ― a shift from the shutdown this January, after which the ratings were more evenly distributed.

Americans disapprove of the handling of the shutdown by Congress as a whole (by a 33-point margin), congressional Republicans (29 points), President Trump (14 points) and congressional Democrats (9 points). Members of Congress fare better with their constituents: Americans are split 35/37 in approving or disapproving of their own representatives’ performance.

Pundits often seem to envision public opinions in the wake of shutdowns as a zero-sum game, in which the public assigns blame to one side and absolves the other. Survey questions asked about such battles often lend themselves to such frames as well.

But the reality of how Americans think about the shutdowns isn’t necessarily so clear-cut. Partisans tend to heap condemnation on their opponents, but aren’t necessarily ecstatic about their own side’s decisions. Other people, especially if they follow politics only casually, may be more likely to write the whole thing off as Washington dysfunction. (To get a better sense of how people view the shutdown, we also asked survey respondents to explain in their own words what was happening. You can see some of their responses at the end of the article.)

Even when shutdowns appear politically damaging, the effects can be short-lived. In 2013, Republicans saw their numbers plunge historically following a shutdown. But within months, the opprobrium wore off, leaving the GOP to go on to a sweeping victory in the following year’s midterms.

In the newest survey, just under half of Americans say Trump is at least somewhat responsible for the shutdown, with about 39 percent saying congressional Democrats bear at least partial responsibility, and about 30 percent that Republicans in Congress do. (Some of the people polled, before being asked the question, were informed that President Trump had both pronounced himself “proud to shut down the government” and later blamed the impending closure on the Democrats. It didn’t appear to have a dramatic effect on the overall results.)

Forty-five percent of Americans say Trump should have compromised on the border wall to prevent gridlock, while 35 percent say he was right not to compromise even though it led to a partial shutdown. The other 20 percent aren’t sure.

Most Americans Don’t Consider Partial Shutdown ‘Very Serious’; 1 In 10 Say They’ll Feel Personal Effects

A tenth of Americans say they’ve been personally affected by the partial shutdown, or that they expect they will be. In many cases, they’re taking the definition of “affected” rather lightly (“I have to hear it incessantly on the news”), broadly (“Everything government does will always affect the people”), or hypothetically (“What if I want to go to a [national] park?”).

Hundreds of thousands of government workers, however, are furloughed or working without pay, with effects that often ripple beyond their immediate families.

“My brother works for the Federal Government and his family and he will be directly affected,” wrote one man who was polled. “We will send them money to help out.” A Democrat, he held Trump and the Republicans responsible for the shutdown, but approved of his own party’s response.

Several other furloughed workers also described themselves as unhappy with Trump’s actions, though not all felt that way.

“My husband is one of those non-essential employees that eventually gets paid for sitting home,” wrote one Republican woman. “We are punished with the stress of waiting for a paycheck and living out of our savings because they want to play politics with people’s livelihoods to work out details of how we spend our tax payer money.” She said the president and both parties in Congress were all at least partially responsible for the shutdown, but believed Trump was right not to compromise.

The partial shutdown hasn’t gone unnoticed by the broader public either, despite the holiday weekend. Most Americans say they’re following the news at least as closely as usual, and nearly 60 percent say they’ve been paying at least some attention to the shutdown.

Sixty-one percent consider the partial shutdown to be at least a serious problem, similar to the share who said the same of the shutdown this January. Just 29 percent, however, consider it very serious.

In Their Own Words

In order to get a better sense of how different Americans across the country are following and reacting to the news, we also asked survey respondents to briefly describe what was happening with the partial shutdown. A small sampling of the responses are below, sorted by 2016 presidential vote. Some answers have been edited lightly for length or clarity, 

Explanations From Clinton Voters: 

- “Both parties of our government can not come to an agreement on the proposed wall that President Trump wants to build, or should I say where that funding should come from.”

- “Colonel Bonespurs, the bloated orange pimple in our White House, wants to waste billions of our tax money and the Republicans won’t oppose his stupidity but the Democrats will. So he won’t sign what’s necessary to keep the government operating until he gets the wall-money to flush down the toilet.”

- “Some departments of the government will be sending people home or people will be working for free ― this money will hopefully be restored to them at a later time.” 

- “According to the meeting between Trump, Pelosi and Schumer, Trump said that he would shut down the government and it would be on him but today he’s blaming the Democrats. He knows he’s not going to get a wall built on the southern border, and now he says it’s a ‘beautiful fence’ instead of a wall. What we need is border protection which doesn’t necessarily mean a wall....If I had my way both the House, Senate and the President should be locked in a room and nobody gets to go home until SOMETHING is passed!”

- “After Trump decided to sign a CR approved by the Senate, talking right wing heads convinced him to not sign the CR.”

- “Democrats and Republicans are not agreeing on stuff.”

- “I haven’t been following the event. I wasn’t even aware it is happening.”

Explanations From Trump Voters: 

- ”Biggest issue: border security. Democrats want no wall, and are stalling until they control the House in January. Republicans want to get a budget with a wall passed now, for the same reason.”

- ”A bunch of unnecessary government workers got sent home because the Democrats don’t care about our security and want to flood the country with illegals that they want to turn into Democrat voters.”

- “It was triggered by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter broadcasting their comments saying Trump was weak, and Trump had to prove otherwise.”

- “Senate Republicans do not have the 60 votes necessary to pass the spending bill passed in the House of Representatives that aligns with Trump’s vision for border security by constructing a wall or barrier. Democrats refuse to compromise to secure our southern border and Trump refuses to cave in to Democratic demands. Typical Washington gridlock!”

- “I really don’t know. I don’t care right now. It is Christmas time and Im not going to let liberals and Democrats bring it down for me so I tend to ignore it lately.”

- “Politics as usual. The Dems and GOP can’t agree that the sky is blue.”

Explanations From Non-Voters: 

- “Due to the inability for both parties in Congress to reach an agreement on the budget for the following months (due to the budget for the border wall being attached to said bill), Congress adjourned with no budget for the country approved.”

- ”I think that it’s very unnecessary to shut the government down because of a wall.”

 - ”Democrats are playing politics for a measly (relative to our budget) $5 billion. They don’t want any type of wall because Trump will get re-elected. The government shutdown is solely on them. And who cares if the government shuts down?? It should STAY shut down.”

- “President Trump has shut down the government because he can’t get funding for a pet project.”

- ”From what I know, they can’t agree on something and if they don’t make a decision soon, the government will shut down until they can. I might have my facts wrong, too. I don’t remember what it was they couldn’t agree on.”′

- “Girl, I don’t know. I just deliver pizzas.”

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Dec. 22-23 among 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.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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