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.


Much like the Gallup poll that I noted the other day, the  new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll contains some significantly bad news for the GOP:

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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Look, for a year now I’ve called the Tea Party types on anti-democratic arguments. That long ago they stopped trying to pretend a majority, and started making arguments about minorities being respected. I think even OTB made some connections about democracy not being oppression of the minority. (Pretending that healthcare for all is oppression of a few.)

    If you did that, you provided cover for this sick minority.

    What will happen in 2014 or 2016?

    Well, tell me what the “adults” will do between now and then?

    Will they clean house, or will they merely continue the terrible job they’ve done, trying to keep the craziest wing of the crazy party in line?

    I think middle-America (1) exists, and (2) is smart enough to figure this one out.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    First, Doug, I want to say you were right about the fallen soldiers legislation. I thought Reid might refuse to bring it, I was wrong.

    Second, it’s just too delicious that Obamacare has a sketchy roll-out and is attacked relentlessly and actually improves by 7 points. By virtue of sheer dickishness, the GOP actually managed to sell Obamacare and distract from the problems. It’s a wonderful moment for lovers of irony.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    the real impact of the shutdown may well be seen in the 2014 Senate races.

    Claire McCaskill, MO 2012. No way she should have won. But the GOP was so indebted to the Tea Party that they nominated Todd Akin and he got his clock cleaned. In MO. A state so vehemently anti Obama it defies description.

    The GOP did not learn the lesson after 2012, and I have doubts they are learning it now. After all, “not a true conservative” is still the excuse duJour.

  4. Lounsbury says:

    I do believe the phrase is “own goal.”

    The level of political incompetence on display really is breath taking. I should think that it was expectable that a relatively complex national health services insurance exchanges roll out would have issues. And thus be a brilliant opportunity to attack the law and policy behind it. Instead, by its own choice, the party in opposition that detests the same, scheduled a cretinously planned, incompetently executed show down over financing the entire government, ostensibly over this, at the moment almost positively designed to distract from the aforementioned inevitable problems.

    One would also be able to give credence to a conspiracy theory they are secret supporters… (no not really, but I look forward to said theory’s emergence for its sheer entertainment value as I watch from other side of pond).

  5. C. Clavin says:

    You are watching the formation of a major…as major as it ever gets…third party.
    Enjoy…it’s a rare event.

  6. David M says:


    Keep in mind the GOP only wants a 6 week extension for all this, so they are trying to keep the budget & debt ceiling issues in news for a while longer.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Dick Armey via Daily Intel:

    How does a guy like Ted Cruz, who’s relatively new in town, who nobody knows, who hasn’t even unpacked his bags, drive this whole process? It’s hard to see how Boehner gets himself out of this. My personal belief is his best model is Tip O’Neill. Tip O’Neill would have just said, “Look, I’m in charge here, you can take it or not.” I think John’s too worried about his speakership. If you’re going to be in command, damn it, then you got to command.

  8. KM says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Oh my God I agree with Dick Armey. I think I need to go lie down now….

    On the plus side, its getting so blatantly obvious that only the truly delusional are denying it now. Man needs to grow a pair and take Cruz out of the equation. It’s his only hope at this point.

  9. Lounsbury says:

    @David M:

    The profound stupidity or sheer incompetence in such an endeavor really does astound. It’s handing a gift to their opponents.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Isn’t this the standard Obama magic again? The universe seems to have an absolute genius for providing him with Dufus and Dumber as opponents.

  11. Todd says:

    Even with the shaky roll-out, it’s hardly surprising that the Affordable Care Act is already slightly more popular … and it won’t be at all surprising to see that trend continue … even among Republicans.

    A lot of the worst of what some people believe(d) about the PPACA was/is just so divorced from reality that the real thing (blemishes and all) can’t help but look good by comparison.

  12. john personna says:


    Up top I talk about it, and Daily Kos also sees The conservative hatred of democracy

  13. Arch Blake says:

    When the tea party’s base digests the consequences of pure laissez-faire capitalism, when they’re unemployed, hungry (with no food stamps), sick (with no access to health care due to their inability to pay for it) – they will rethink just how “free” governmentless-ness really is.