Whether it’s just the natural inclination to backfill on a three-week story line that ended up going nowhere or a way to talk about something other than the ObamaCare debacle all day long, the media has continued to look for evidence that the government shutdown served as a self-immolation for the Republican Party. Two new polls show that Republicans took some damage, but so did Barack Obama and Democrats, and the damage was not as significant as people assumed. First let’s look at the Washington Post/ABC survey, where Republicans fared worst:
It’s long been noted that Americans disapprove of Congress as an institution far more than they disapprove of their own representative. That’s still the case – but less so. Just 43 percent in this survey approve even of their own Congress member, while 47 percent disapprove – record low approval and the first underwater result to this question in ABC/Post polls back 24 years.
Another result may deepen the chill for current office-holders: Only 25 percent of registered voters now say they’re inclined to re-elect their representative in Congress; 66 percent are inclined to look around for someone else – the highest level of anti-incumbency in ABC/Post polls since 1989.
The Republicans may be at particular risk; just 32 percent of Americans express a favorable view of the party, vs. 63 percent unfavorable – their worst rating, as noted, in at least 29 years. The Democrats, by contrast, manage about an even split in this basic measure of popularity.
That said, anti-incumbency is not taking a strong partisan direction. Registered voters split 48-40 percent between the Democrat and the Republican in their House district, unchanged from May and a fairly typical result. It was much better for the Democrats leading into the 2006 midterms and much better for the Republicans leading into 2010.
In a poll series, especially to test the impact of a big event, one has to look past the latest numbers and see how they look in the context of time. The 12/85 of this shutdown looks very similar to the 16/80 after the March showdown, and the 13/84 in January 2012. In July, Congressional approval rebounded — if you can call it that — to 21/73. In truth, Congressional approval in this poll series has been below 40% since June 2007, shortly after Democrats took over in the 2006 midterms, and below 30% since mid-2008 — and Democrats still kept control and won the White House later that year. Congressional approval, therefore, isn’t a very telling indicator.
Unfortunately for us, the partisan approvals don’t have that kind of history in this series, but WaPo/ABC did ask that question just before the shutdown on September 29th. Congressional Republican approval ratings went from 26/63 to 21/77; Congressional Democratic approval went from 34/56 to 36/61. In both cases, disapproval ratings rose a little more significantly than approval ratings fell, and while Republicans did a little worse in the exchange, the numbers haven’t exactly fallen out from under either. (On the parties as a whole, Republicans did do worse a little more significantly, falling from 39/53 to 32/63; Democrats went from 49/42 to 46/49.)
At CBS, we see the same kind of incremental erosion:
While 31 percent of Americans approve of the way Democrats in Congress are doing their job, just 18 percent approve of how Republicans are doing theirs. Disapproval of Republicans in Congress has risen five percentage points since before the shutdown, to 78 percent. Democrats’ “negatives” climbed three points, to 65 percent.
The recent budget negotiations have made 64 percent of Americans pessimistic about Congress’ ability to deal with future issues affecting the country; only 11 percent are optimistic.
Tea party adherents were front-and-center during the shutdown, and views of the movement have become more negative. Just 14 percent of Americans now hold a favorable view of the tea party, down from 18 percent as the government shutdown began, and unfavorable views are up 7 points. Half of Americans still hold no view of the tea party or aren’t familiar with it, even after the high-profile political battles.
Basically, this means that the shutdown probably didn’t do anyone lasting damage, and it certainly didn’t present anyone with a lasting advantage. Had the shutdown continued longer or produced a technical default, that might have produced a more significant result, but it didn’t. It seems very doubtful that these just-outside-the-MOE changes will reverberate a year from now, especially when the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are entering a credibility death spiral on ObamaCare that will last the entire year — and for several years after that, too.