AP-GfK Poll: Republicans get most blame for shutdown, tea party is potent and divisive factor
By CALVIN WOODWARD and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and lawmakers must rise above their incessant bickering and do more to end the partial government shutdown, according to a poll Wednesday that places the brunt of the blame on Republicans but finds no one standing tall in Washington.
“So frustrating,” Martha Blair, 71, of Kerrville, Texas, said of the fiscal paralysis as her scheduled national parks vacation sits in limbo. “Somebody needs to jerk those guys together to get a solution, instead of just saying ‘no.’”
The Associated Press-GfK survey affirms expectations by many in Washington — Republicans among them — that the GOP may end up taking the biggest hit in public opinion from the shutdown, as happened 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.
Most Americans consider the shutdown a serious problem for the country, the poll finds, though more than four in five have felt no personal effect. For those who have, thwarted vacations and a honeymoon at shuttered national parks, difficulty getting work done without federal contacts on the job and hitches in government benefits were among the complaints.
Asked if she blamed Obama, House Republicans, Senate Democrats or the tea party for the shutdown, Blair, an independent, said yes, you bet. All of them. 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. “I’m concerned,” she said, “but it seems kind of trivial to people who are being shut out of work.”
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.
Tom Moore, 69, of Syracuse, N.Y., a retired electronics executive and Republican-leaning independent, said the GOP has made some good points, badly. The idea of delaying the health care law’s individual insurance mandate for a year, for example, strikes him as reasonable, but not when such demands come from hard-liners like Cruz.
“I think the Republicans have done a very poor job of communicating their mission,” he said. “They’ve been ostracized for trying to bring reality to our budgets.”
But he’s not in tune with the animosity many Republicans exhibit toward the president. Obama, he said, is a compassionate, reasonable and likable man who has set the wrong priorities — “a social mission” — in a time begging for economic renewal.
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 while an unprecedented national default approaches if nothing is done to raise the debt limit. Obama invited all 232 House GOP lawmakers to the White House on Thursday — Republicans said 18 would come. His meeting with congressional leaders last week produced no results. 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.
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.”
Moore traveled to Las Vegas with his wife and Florida relatives hoping to see Red Rock Canyon, only to find the national conservation area closed. Instead they went to Hoover Dam, also a federal property but one that has remained open because it is not financed with congressional appropriations. “Not a catastrophe,” he said, but he doesn’t know when they’ll go again.
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.