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Public blames Republicans for the shutdown, as expected

A CBS poll shows that, as most observers expected, Republicans are taking more blame for the government shutdown than Democrats. 44 percent of Americans blame congressional Republicans primarily, while 35 percent put more blame on President Obama and congressional Democrats.

These views are virtually the same as they were last week before the shutdown, when Americans were asked who they would blame if a shutdown occurred. Thus, the various shutdown missteps of the Obama administrations — such as at the World War II memorial — don’t seem yet to be influencing public opinion (the poll was conducted on October 1-2).

The numbers could be worse, though, and they were during the 1995 shutdown. Back then, 51 percent of Americans blamed congressional Republicans, while 28 percent blamed President Clinton.

Why are Republicans faring better this time? For one thing, Obamacare — which, of course, is at the heart of this shutdown — is highly unpopular. For another, attitudes towards government probably have changed a bit.

But 35-44 is not a good place for Republicans to be, and it will become a very bad place to be if the shutdown begins to be perceived as causing serious hardship. Being blamed for a less than optimal situation is one thing; being blamed for a disaster is another.

Moreover, even absent major hardship, the unpopularity of the Republicans position on the shutdown hurts the Party and thus helps the Dems. John has noted that the public tends to tilt Republican on most issues, but nonetheless tends to vote for Democrats. The reason, I think, is that the public doesn’t really trust Republicans to govern.

The CBS poll shows that 72 percent of Americans disapprove of shutting down the federal government over differences on Obamacare. Indeed, by a margin of 38-59, even those who oppose Obamacare disapprove of the shutdown. For the plurality of Americans who deem Republicans mostly to blame for this unpopular disruption, the image of Republicans as not quite fit to govern is reinforced.

This doesn’t mean that, at this point, Republicans should give in on the CR without receiving something in exchange. No one wants to be governed by losers, much less a punching bag. It does mean that Republicans should be more than a little concerned about the state of play.

Fortunately, the state of play may change as October 17 approaches and the question of raising the debt-ceiling becomes intertwined with the CR in the public mind. Although, as noted above, polling shows the public overwhelmingly doesn’t want a shutdown over Obamacare, it also shows that the public wants to restrain borrowing. And polling shows that, whomever it blames for getting the country into the current situation, the public favors — by upwards of 75 percent in the CBS poll — negotiations as the way out.

It should therefore become difficult for Obama to insist on a clean CR as a precondition to negotiating about the debt-ceiling. Republicans, I assume, will show flexibility on both issues. Obama, I suspect, will need to show at least some flexibility too.

That is, unless public opinion on the shutdown begins to swing more decisively, and with greater intensity, against the Republicans. Or unless — and the two phenomena are related — congressional Republicans begin to defect in appreciable numbers.

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