No doubt, the president and his partisans have been reading the polls and reaching the conclusion that they will benefit from the brinkmanship. To the point, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released early this week showed a new high of 74 percent of Americans in the sample disapproved of how Republicans in Congress were handling what was described as the budget crisis or budget dispute. That was up 11 percentage points from the start of the partial government shutdown. Another ominous turn: 54 percent said they “strongly disapprove” of the Republicans.
Even among Republicans, the trend was not good for the GOP in Congress. For the first time this poll showed only 49 percent approval by this group for how Republicans are handling the budget issue. And among conservatives across the board, 59 percent said they did not approve of the conduct of Republicans, while 76 percent of independents disapproved.
Democrats got 61 percent disapproval, five points worse than two weeks earlier, while Obama’s disapproval was at 53 percent and his approval at 42 percent, essentially flat since the partisan fight began, more evidence of his Teflon shield in just about any circumstances. As others have pointed out, Obama seems to be dissociated from issues and governance in the view of many Americans.
However, it may not be a good idea for the Democrats to play the brinkmanship game because they believe they will benefit politically starting with the 2014 elections. As the Post poll analysis by Langer Research Associates pointed out, the current readings are very much like those taken during the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 when Newt Gingrich led the Republicans in battle against President Bill Clinton. A January 1996 ABC/Post poll showed Clinton with a 42-50 percent approval-disapproval rating for how he handled the controversy — compared with Obama’s 42-53 percent standing currently. The Republicans in 1996 got a 20-74 percent rating — virtually the same as the 21-74 percent rating this week.
Yet the poor standing of Republicans did not doom the party to losses in the 1996 elections. Indeed, 10 months after the second shutdown, Clinton gained re-election — and Republicans maintained their control of both the House and Senate. As Langer Research observed in its analysis of its poll, “Now, as then, what may matter most is not just today’s blame, but the eventual resolution of the crisis and the extent of damage done en route.”
Meanwhile, there was no good reason from the beginning that this cliff-hanging act if Obama and the Democrats had not chosen the indefensible stance of “our way or the highway.” America deserves better from the president and his party.