The Hill polled on the question of which party would get more blame in a government shutdown — and pronounced the results “surprising.”  Slightly more of the respondents would blame Democrats more than the GOP, but a shutdown wouldn’t exactly cover anyone in glory:

Twenty-nine percent of likely voters would blame Democrats for a government shutdown, compared to 23 percent who would hold Republicans responsible, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

The results are surprising because most people blamed the GOP for the last government shutdown, which occurred during President Clinton’s first term. A week before the 1995 shuttering, polls showed the public blamed Republicans by a two-to-one-margin. …

However, there are dangers for both parties, the poll indicates. A plurality of voters, 43 percent, would blame both Republicans and Democrats if the lights go out at midnight on March 5. Forty-five percent of respondents said neither party would benefit politically from a shutdown.

This compares to 14 percent who think Democrats would benefit and 18 percent who said Republicans would.

The gap is most pronounced among independents, which would blame Democrats 34/19 over Republicans.  Independents are most likely to view a shutdown as negative, 54%, as compared to 51% for Democrats and 37% for Republicans.  But more self-described liberals (63%) would consider it negative than moderates (53%) or conservatives (35%).

In other words, both parties would be playing with fire, but Democrats might get a little more singed.  That may explain why, as Politico put it this morning, Democrats handed the GOP a TKO in Round 1 of the budget battle:

The budget scoreboard so far: Republicans 1, Democrats 0.

Democrats threw in the towel Friday, just two days after delivering a chest-thumping rejection of the GOP plan to forestall a government shutdown for two weeks.

In doing so, they handed Republicans a technical knockout in the first in a series of epic budget fights. Democrats agreed to $4 billion in cuts over the first two weeks in March, a concession that may give Republicans the upper hand for the time being as the two sides try to agree on the rest of the fiscal 2011 budget and the fiscal 2012 budget and to avoid a government default that would be more serious than a short-term shutdown.

Democrats caved on the short-term CR, not the final budget numbers, Jonathan Allen reminds readers.  The surrender makes it more difficult to argue for a return to higher levels of spending in the next bill, though.  Republicans could — and certainly will — cast the Democratic position as a spending increase if the new budget doesn’t cut spending at least at the $2 billion per week clip of the short-term CR.

Republicans have the advantage in the budget battle, even if it’s a rather thin advantage. Democrats seem to understand that voters want government spending trimmed.  It’s time to press that advantage.