Another Poll Brings Bad News For The GOP, But Will It Matter Come Election Day?
The GOP's approval numbers have fallen like a stone, but it's unclear whether this will matter in 2014.
The Republican Party has been badly damaged in the ongoing government shutdown and debt limit standoff, with a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finding that a majority of Americans blame the GOP for the shutdown, and with the party’s popularity declining to its lowest level.
By a 22-point margin (53 percent to 31 percent), the public blames the Republican Party more for the shutdown than President Barack Obama – a wider margin of blame for the GOP than the party received during the poll during the last shutdown in 1995-96.
Just 24 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion about the GOP, and only 21 percent have a favorable view of the Tea Party, which are both at all-time lows in the history of poll.
And one year until next fall’s midterm elections, American voters prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress to a Republican-controlled one by eight percentage points (47 percent to 39 percent), up from the Democrats’ three-point advantage last month (46 percent to 43 percent).
What’s more, Obama’s political standing has remained relatively stable since the shutdown, with his approval rating ticking up two points since last month, and with the Democratic Party’s favorability rating declining just three points (from 42 percent to 39 percent).
“If it were not so bad for the country, the results could almost make a Democrat smile,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
“These numbers lead to one inescapable conclusion: The Republicans are not tone deaf; they are stone deaf.”
Perhaps most ironically, after three weeks of the GOP focusing national attention on the Affordable Care Act, and nearly two weeks of a roll-out of the exchanges that has been, to put it mildly, less than ideal, the law is actually more popular than it was before all of this started:
Yet what is perhaps even more worrisome for the GOP is the “boomerang” effect: As the party has used the shutdown and fiscal fight to campaign against the nation’s health-care law and for limited government, the poll shows those efforts have backfired.
For one thing, the health-care law has become more popular since the shutdown began. Thirty-eight percent see the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) as a good idea, versus 43 percent who see it as a bad idea – up from 31 percent good idea, 44 percent bad idea last month.
In addition, 50 percent say they oppose totally eliminating funding for the law, even if it that means a partial shutdown of the government. That’s up from 46 percent who said they opposed that move in a Sept. 2013 CNBC poll.
And by a 52-percent-to-44 percent difference, respondents believe the government should do more to solve problems. Back in June, the public was split, 48 percent to 48 percent, on whether the government should do more or less.
“That is an ideological boomerang,” says McInturff, the GOP pollster. “As the debate has been going on, if there is a break, there is a break against the Republican position.”
Other pollsters, including Rasmussen have found a small but not insignificant shift of public opinion on the PPACA over the past couple weeks. as well. Part of this, no doubt, is due to the increased media attention the law has gotten as we got closer to the October 1st start date, but it also seems as though the attention that the GOP was focusing on the law by linking it to keeping the government open may have backfired on. It would certainly make sense to come to that conclusion based on the other numbers in the poll, especially the very negative reaction in the public mind to the entire manner in which the party has handled itself during the shutdown and the run-up to the debt ceiling breach. If that’s the case, then Cruz, Lee, et al may need to deal with the horrible truth that, at least for the moment, they’ve helped make Obamacare more popular in the eyes of the public. Like I said, irony.
Looking at the topline numbers, though, things could barely be worse for the Republican Party. Of all the political actors involved in the drama of the past 2-3 weeks, the GOP and the Tea Party have come out of all of this looking the worst of all. As with the Gallup Poll, the party finds itself in a far worse position than it was at the height of the 1995/96 shutdown when its polling numbers actually managed to remain stable. No doubt, this is at least part of the reason why we see party leaders like Boehner, Cantor, and Paul Ryan pushing the rest of the caucus, albeit delicately, toward resolving both the debt ceiling and the shutdown issues as soon as possible in order to limit the damage.
The real question, of course, is what all of this means for Republicans going forward. After all, we’re more than a year away from the 2014 midterms and even further away from the 2016 General Election. Trying to make predictions about what might happen in either of those elections based on polling in mid-October of an non-election year is pretty much the political equivalent of trying to predict the winner of Super Bowl XLIX while in the middle of the 2013 NFL season. That, in part, is what Nate Silver discusses in a post at the temporary home of FiveThirtyEight as he transitions from The New York Times to ESPN:
Remember Syria? The fiscal cliff? Benghazi? The IRS scandal? The collapse of immigration reform? All of these were hyped as game-changing political moments by the news media, just as so many stories were during the election last year. In each case, the public’s interest quickly waned once the news cycle turned over to another story. Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won’t turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time.
Or consider the other story from President Obama’s tenure in office that has the most parallels to the shutdown: the tense negotiations, in 2011, over the federal debt ceiling. The resolution to that crisis, which left voters across the political spectrum dissatisfied, did have some medium-term political impact: Obama’s approval ratings declined to the low 40s from the high 40s, crossing a threshold that historically marks the difference between a reelected president and a one-termer, and congressional approval ratings plunged to record lows.
But Obama’s approval ratings reverted to the high 40s by early 2012, enough to facilitate his reelection. Meanwhile, reelection rates for congressional incumbents were close to their long-term averages.
None of this applies if the United States actually does default on its debt this time around, or if the U.S. shutdown persists for as long as Belgium’s. But if the current round of negotiations is resolved within the next week or so, they might turn out to have a relatively minor impact by November 2014.
Silver goes on to cite other caveats that could point toward a muted impact on upcoming elections from this current manufactured crisis, including the fact that the 95/96 shutdown actually ended up having only a very small impact on the GOP in the 1996 elections, and the fact that, this time around, the Democrats would face significant structural impediments to any effort to retake the House. Countering those facts, I’ll only note that the potential exists for Republicans to head into the 2014 elections in far worse shape than they were in after the 95/96 shutdown and that we’ve already seen three wave elections in the last four election cycles (2006, 2008, and 2010), so the possibility of a third isn’t something that should be completely discounted.
Additionally, as Silver admits, the real impact of the shutdown may well be seen in the 2014 Senate races. As I’ve noted before, the GOP will need to win nearly every one of the “Red State” seats currently up for grabs. Three of those seven states (Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia) seems to be trending pretty clearly in the GOP’s direction. Additionally, Congressman Tom Cotton looks to pose a strong challenge to Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Assuming Cotton wins, the GOP must still win two out of three from Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina. If they only win one of three, they end up with a 50-50 Senate where Joe Biden will case the deciding vote in any leadership election. If they sweep all three, they end up with a 52-48 Senate, which is obviously a more security majority than 51-49. Additionally, all of this assumes that the GOP holds on to all of its own seats, including seats in Kentucky and Georgia that Democrats seem to be intent on making a run for next year. All of that leaves very little margin for error, and a GOP that goes into the 2014 cycle with approval numbers like this is going to have a huge albatross around its neck.