Americans are holding Republicans primarily responsible for the partial government shutdown as public esteem sinks for all players in the impasse, President Barack Obama among them, according to a new poll. It's a struggle with no heroes.
The Associated Press-GfK survey, out Wednesday, affirms expectations by many in Washington -- Republicans among them -- that the GOP may end up taking the biggest hit in public opinion from the fiscal paralysis, just as that party did when much of the government closed 17 years ago. But the situation is fluid nine days into the shutdown and there's plenty of disdain to go around.
Overall, 62 percent mainly blamed Republicans for the shutdown. About half said Obama or the Democrats in Congress bear much responsibility.
Asked if she blamed Obama, House Republicans, Senate Democrats or the tea party for the shutdown, Martha Blair, 71, of Kerrville, Texas, said, yes, you bet. All of them.
"Somebody needs to jerk those guys together to get a solution, instead of just saying 'no'," said Blair, an independent. "It's just so frustrating.'' It's also costly: She's paid to fly with a group to four national parks in Arizona and California next month and says she can't get her money back or reschedule if the parks remain closed.
The poll found that the tea party is more than a gang of malcontents in the political landscape, as its supporters in Congress have been portrayed by Democrats. Rather, it's a sizable -- and divisive -- force among Republicans.
More than 4 in 10 Republicans identified with the tea party and were more apt than other Republicans to insist that their leaders hold firm in the standoff over reopening government and avoiding a default of the nation's debt in coming weeks.
Most Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, the poll suggests, with 53 percent unhappy with his performance and 37 percent approving of it. Congress is scraping rock bottom, with a ghastly approval rating of 5 percent.
Indeed, anyone making headlines in the dispute has earned poor marks for his or her trouble, whether it's Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, or Republican John Boehner, the House speaker, both with a favorability rating of 18 percent.
And much of the country draws a blank on Republican Ted Cruz of Texas despite his 21-hour Senate speech before the shutdown. Only half in the poll were familiar enough with him to register an opinion. Among those who did, 32 percent viewed him unfavorably, 16 percent favorably.
Comparisons could not be drawn conclusively with how people viewed leaders before the shutdown because the poll was conducted online, while previous AP-GfK surveys were done by telephone. Some changes may be due to the new methodology, not shifts in opinion. The poll provides a snapshot of public opinion starting in the third day of the shutdown.
The poll comes with both sides dug in and trading blame incessantly. On Tuesday, a proposal by House Republicans to create a working group of 20 lawmakers to tackle deficit issues prompted a White House veto threat, and a plan by Senate Democrats to raise the debt limit by $1 trillion to avoid a default drew a frosty reception from the GOP. Obama is insisting Republicans reopen government and avert default before any negotiations on deficit reduction or his 2010 health care law are held.
Among the survey's findings:
- Sixty-eight percent said the shutdown is a major problem for the country, including majorities of Republicans (58 percent), Democrats (82 percent) and independents (57 percent).
- Fifty-two percent said Obama is not doing enough to cooperate with Republicans to end the shutdown; 63 percent say Republicans aren't doing enough to cooperate with him.
- Republicans are split on just how much cooperation they want. Among those who do not back the tea party, fully 48 percent say their party should be doing more with Obama to find a solution. But only 15 percent of tea-party Republicans want that outreach. The vast majority of them say GOP leaders are doing what they should with the president, or should do even less with him.
- People seem conflicted or confused about the showdown over the debt limit. Six in 10 predict an economic crisis if the government's ability to borrow isn't renewed later this month with an increase in the debt limit -- an expectation widely shared by economists. Yet only 30 percent say they support raising the limit; 46 percent were neutral on the question
- More than four in five respondents felt no personal impact from the shutdown. For those who did, thwarted vacations to national parks, difficulty getting work done without federal contacts at their desks and hitches in government benefits were among the complaints.
Blair's nine-day trip to national parks with a tour group won't happen if the parks are still closed next month. "I'm concerned," she said, "but it seems kind of trivial to people who are being shut out of work."'
In Mount Prospect, Ill., Barbara Olpinski, 51, a Republican who blames Obama and both parties for the shutdown, said her family is already seeing an impact and that will worsen if the impasse goes on. She's an in-home elderly care director, her daughter is a physician's assistant at a rural clinic that treats patients who rely on government coverage, and her husband is a doctor who can't get flu vaccines for patients on public assistance because deliveries have stopped.
"People don't know how they are going to pay for things, and what will be covered," she said. "Everybody is kind of like holding their wallets."
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 3-7 and involved online interviews with 1,227 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.
The survey used GfK's KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed for this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't have online access were given that access at no cost to them.