Post/ABC News poll: GOP is getting blamed for the shutdown

October 7, 2013

So says the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, anyway:

There's precedent for these numbers. Political scientists who've studied gridlock-driven shutdowns at the state level found much the same thing: The executive benefits and the legislature is punished.

I wrote about this in 2011. Asger Lau Andersen, David Dreyer Lassen and Lasse Holbøll Westh Nielsen tallied up 167 state shutdowns since 1988. But then they went a step further and tried to isolate the fiscal mismanagement they had on the next election. They succeeded. Voters respond to budgetary chaos, and they do so angrily and predictably.

The big takeaway is that blame is not shared equally: “Governors are subjected to an electoral penalty only under unified government, while legislatures are always held accountable.”

That is to say, if the budget process falls apart amidst divided government, the executive — in this case, President Obama — not only gets a pass from the voters, but may get a bit of a boost. It’s Congress that gets blamed. And not just one party or the other. Everyone in Congress. Which is what you see in the latest Post poll.

The researchers calculate that a budgetary breakdown under divided government reduces the chances that incumbent legislators from either party will get reelected, though it helps the governor’s party in the gubernatorial elections. That would suggest that a shutdown would be bad for everyone serving in Congress, but good for Obama.

That might not hold in this instance, of course. The fact that something is generally true does not mean it’s always true. But the belief that minority parties — and legislators in general — should fear a shutdown turns out to be based on a lot more data points than 1995. And, if the Post poll is right, it's holding true in 2013, too.

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Brad Plumer · October 7, 2013