Sometimes polls state the obvious. Sometimes they surprise. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Gallup surveys, which landed late last week during the government shutdown, did both.
Everyone knew that the shutdown and threats of a federal default would hurt the political standing of both parties in the Washington drama. That was obvious. What was surprising was the amount of damage that was done in so short a time — and especially to the Republican Party, whose tactical mistakes led to the shutdown, which will soon enter its third week.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff and Democratic pollsters Peter Hart and Fred Yang conducted the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. All are longtime practitioners, but even they seemed startled by the findings. McInturff wrote in an analysis, “Overall, this is among the handful of surveys that stand out in my career as being significant and consequential.” Hart called the findings “jaw-dropping.”
Why? It’s worth ticking through some of the numbers. Pessimism about the direction of the country and the economy had risen dramatically. Almost eight in 10 respondents said the nation is seriously off track, a jump of 16 percentage points in a month. Four in 10 said they expect the economy to get worse over the next year. McInturff said it is only the fifth time in 20 years that pessimism about the economy has reached or exceeded 40 percent.
The current standoff is corroding public confidence in government — just as it did two years ago during the last tortured negotiation over raising the debt ceiling. Anger at the political class in Washington has risen to levels rarely seen. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, six in 10 — a record — said that if they could do so, they would vote to replace every member of Congress, including their own. Six in 10 also said that what is happening in Washington makes them worry more about the future of the economy.
President Obama and the Democrats did not escape criticism, but the Republicans were in a different league in terms of how the public assessed blame. The shutdown has been a political debacle for the Republicans. Images of the Republican Party and the tea party movement, whose followers in the House pressed for the strategy that led to the shutdown, registered record lows. Just 24 percent said they had a positive impression of the GOP. The tea party’s positive rating was 21 percent.
Fifty-three percent of all Americans blamed the Republicans for the shutdown. Only 31 percent blamed Obama. More than two in three said Republicans had put their agenda ahead of the country’s interests, while 51 percent said that of the president.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who staged a 21-hour filibuster demanding that the nation’s health-care law be defunded as the price for keeping the government running, tried to slough off the results. He told NBC News on Friday that the poll was “not reflective of where the country is.” Cruz must have missed the findings of the Gallup organization, which released numbers almost identical to those of the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey.