Heading Into Border Wall Showdown, Trump And The GOP Are Losing The Battle

As Washington heads into the final days of a budget shutdown, Republicans find themselves on the losing end of a public relations battle.

With the government headed for another potential shutdown over President Trump’s border wall, FiveThirtyEight takes a look at the polls and finds that Americans don’t want to see a shutdown over a border wall:

It’s that time of year again. Snow is falling, sleigh bells are ringing and Congress still hasn’t figured out how to fund important parts of the government. In a televised meeting with Democratic leaders at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump said he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” if Democrats wouldn’t vote to spend $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But that may not be a very popular stance.

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 57 percent of Americans think Trump should “compromise on the border wall to prevent gridlock,” while only 36 percent think he shouldn’t compromise even if that means a government shutdown.

And that reflects a larger trend — in CBS News polls that have been conducted since July 2016, Trump’s border wall proposal has generally been unpopular, except among Republicans:

For Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, the public relations game around government shutdowns is usually focused on trying to pin blame on the other side. After the government closed for 16 days in 2013, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more Americans placed responsibility for the impasse on Republicans than on President Obama. And nearly 3 in 5 Republicans said they disapproved of how their party handled the shutdown negotiations.

This time around, the prospect of a shutdown seems to have spooked some congressional Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he hopes a partial shutdown can be avoided. And Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to be the speaker of the House in the next Congress, reportedly described Trump’s publicly expressed willingness to shut down the government as a political accomplishment.

But Democrats probably shouldn’t celebrate. Even though Americans mostly blamed Republicans in the aftermath of the 2013 shutdown, Obama arguably didn’t escape unscathed: His favorable rating dipped below his unfavorable rating for the first time in his presidency. Government shutdowns can have serious political fallout in the short run for everyone involved.

Holding up budget negotiations over a border wall may seem like a good way for Trump to maintain support from his core followers, but mixing a policy that appeals primarily to his base with a government shutdown could backfire, especially if Trump is ultimately unable to secure funding for the wall. In the new NPR/PBS News/Marist poll, 30 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Trump supporters said they thought he should compromise on the wall. And a CBS News poll from November found that 28 percent of those who favored Trump’s border wall did not believe that it was worth risking a partial government shutdown over.

There will likely be pressure on Trump from both the public and from his own party to avoid shutting down the government. If a government shutdown interrupts the holidays this year, while the political fallout might be a wash in the long run, there could be more lasting consequences for things like economic growthscientific research and veterans benefits that might leave some people more dissatisfied and angry with government.

These polls are largely consistent with what we’ve seen in the past on both the general issue of government shutdowns and the specific issue of the President’s border wall. In the first case, polling has consistently shown that the public does not support government shutdowns for any reason and tend to blame the party causing the shutdown even in cases where the shutdown is arguably over an issue where the public might support the side that’s causing the shutdown. In the summer of 2011, for example, when some Republicans were threatening to shut the government down over raising the debt ceiling, an issue where voters generally seemed to be on their side, the polling showed that the public was against a shutdown. When Republicans actually did shut the government down two years later in an obviously doomed effort to “defund” the Affordable Care Act, the polling went decidedly against them to the point where they hit historic lows by the time the sixteen-day shutdown was over. In the latter case, the only reason that the shut down didn’t hurt Republicans electorally is that it was followed soon after by the disastrous rollout of the PPACA and because the midterms were more than a year away. In this instance, the polls suggest that Republicans are likely to take a hit if Congress and the President are unable to reach an agreement to avoid a shutdown.

As things stand, there isn’t exactly a lot of time for Washington to act to avoid a shutdown. The current Continuing Resolution, which essentially punted the outstanding issues to December 21st due to the fact that Congressional activity was interrupted during the first week of December for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, runs out at the end of this week. While budget negotiators have apparently continued to work behind the scenes, the House of Representatives isn’t even scheduled to be back in town for votes until Wednesday, leaving very little time to actually get anything done before time runs out on Friday. Additionally, it’s unclear just how many Members of Congress are going to be willing to show up later this week to vote on any measure that may come before Congress. This is especially true for Members who have retired or who were defeated in their bids for re-election.  Since Republicans in the House make up the largest part of that group, this arguably increases the bargaining power of Democrats heading into the showdown that will inevitably occur over the coming days. Finally, the President is scheduled to leave Washington for Florida for a sixteen-day holiday vacation at the end of the week and there’s no indication those plans would change if Congress and the White House can’t reach a budget deal.

Realistically speaking, it seems as though the outcome of all of this will be predictable. If Congress is unable to come up with a deal then they’ll just punt this down the road past New Year’s Day for the new Congress to deal with. Doing that, though, just increases the power of Democrats since it means a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Republicans would obviously like to avoid this, so there will be pressure for them to come up with a deal by the end of the week. The wildcard is the President and how serious he really is about his insistence that there be at least $5 billion in border wall funding. If he refuses to budge on that, then who knows where we’ll be when we wake up Saturday morning.


FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    in CBS News polls that have been conducted since July 2016, Trump’s border wall proposal has generally been unpopular,

    And now, the magic words that make the previous statement irrelevant to Trump and, most likely, Mitch and the boys

    except among Republicans: [emphasis added]

    As long as 46% of the electorate is batshirt crazy and/or will vote R no matter what…

  2. Kathy says:

    I wonder if the House could pass a resolution allowing Dennison to set up a Go Fund Me campaign, so long as contributions are capped at the same amount as electoral campaign contributions.

  3. CSK says:


    Michael Goodwin suggested that in today’s NYPost.

  4. Michael says:

    The media should stop kidding themselves and us. This is not a government shutdown. It’s a partial shutdown, and probably less of a shutdown than a government slowdown. I heard someone on a news talk show who opined that most Americans won’t even notice. Well then, what’s the point.

  5. Kathy says:


    It would be a unique campaign. Anyone subscribed to the service who doesn’t chip in, gets a certificate signed by Trump declaring them to be a cheap bastard who hates America 🙂

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Michael: I agree, “most Americans” don’t do patent prosecutions. Trust me, the IP world will definitely notice. Depends how nice the USPTO decides to be to those who can’t file follow-up patents on provisionals or foreign priors because the office is closed.

  7. al Ameda says:

    As far as I’m concerned it remains to be seen if Republicans ‘are losing the battle.’ They paid absolutely no electoral price for shutting down the government during the Obama years.

    Plus, remember that the Trump base, in their constant fever wet dreams, would love to shut down the government on general principle anyway.

  8. Kylopod says:

    @al Ameda:

    They paid absolutely no electoral price for shutting down the government during the Obama years.

    They paid no electoral price because it happened so long before any election, but there’s no evidence they were helped by it electorally (polls showed the public overwhelmingly blamed the GOP for the debacle), and they got nothing out of it substantively.

  9. Slugger says:

    BTW, what is happening with the caravan of people determined to cross our borders ( or boarders as some people have it)? I have not heard anything about them for about a month. The Pew Research Center says that illegal immigrants have been declining and are at the lowest numbers since 2004. Am I going to have to mow my own lawn in the future?

  10. Robert Ecklund says:

    Excuse me, The only place where the President Trump and GOP is losing the fight on the border wall is in the eyes of the Fake — Lying — Prevaricating — Faux News left ear echo chamber, A Nation is defined by it’s border, and If a Nation cannot enforce it’s borders and immigration, It is no longer a Nation. In every poll that I have read, The skew is so great to make it seem the American People, The Tax Paying American, Is against the wall, That only the Left Wing, Fake News, Lying Liberals are the ones who cannot see past their political predisposition and prejudice, The this is nothing but agitprop from left wing democrats and the DNC…….

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: Fortunately for him, the only thing he needs from de gubmint is his Social Security deposit. As long as he gets that, the rest of you can go take a hike! MAWA!

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    To Robert E:

    Your capitalization pattern shows you are either, a) kinda dumb or b) not American. Or both, of course, but I a note with concern that the quality of Russian trolls is declining rapidly. They used to be better trained back in the old days – two years ago. Of course you could just be a domestically-produced idiot, it’s hard to tell, the IQ difference between a Trump voter and a bit of computer code is pretty small.

  13. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That is actually the spelling/punctuation/capitalization/syntax of someone who was an ardent Palinista in 2008 and, thwarted of Palin, became an ardent Trumpkin in 2015.

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    Excuse me,..

    No. There is no excuse for you.
    You and your Pervert-in-Chief need to drive your GardaWorld armored trucks down to Mexico City and return with 100,368,000,000.00 Mexican Pesos from the Mexican Treasury.
    Like Chump said: “I’ll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.”

  15. Mister Bluster says:

    Excuse me,..

    No. There is no excuse for you.
    You and your Pervert-in-Chief need to drive your GardaWorld armored trucks down to Mexico City and return with 100,368,000,000.00 Mexican Pesos from the Mexican Treasury.
    Like Chump said: “I’ll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.”

  16. Mister Bluster says:

    Mister Moderator.
    There is no excuse for me using incorrect eMail address.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: His overuse of the word “the,” especially when he says “The President Trump,” suggests he’s a Russian. Remember, Donald’s nickname “The Donald” came originally from his Czech wife Ivana. Czech and Russian are both Slavic languages that lack articles, and native speakers often have difficulty with the English distinctions between the, a/an, and no article.

    It sounds like he composed that post while holding a Russian-English dictionary in his hand.

  18. Kathy says:

    “left ear echo chamber”? Damn 😀

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    My thought as well. Probably used Google Translate, which is good, but according to international fans I sometimes tweet, not exactly natural-sounding.

  20. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I thought of that, but is Google Translate so bad that it actually adds articles where they don’t belong? As an experiment, I tried translating the sentence “I respect President Trump” into Russian and back, and it didn’t come out with a phantom the.

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    No, you’re right, I don’t think the Google is doing Yakov Smirnoff. At least I hope not. If it is, we face the grim prospect of mutation eventually producing an AI Jeff Foxworthy.

  22. Mu says:

    Simple solution, declare all secret service protection details outside of Washington, DC non-essential and make him pay for his own security in Florida. He’ll sign before the ink is dry on the bill.

  23. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mu:..make him pay for his own security in Florida

    Supreme Leader Kim Jong Trump should heed his own advice.
    “I think what we should do is she goes around with armed bodyguards, like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should disarm, right? Right? Think they should disarm. Immediately, what do you think? Yes? Yes. Yeah. Take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns. Let’s see what happens to her.”