The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans are losing the shutdown blame game

Americans are blaming congressional Republicans more than President Obama for causing Tuesday's federal government shutdown, according to the first polls conducted since Washington came to a halt at midnight Monday.

While the initial reaction is worse for Republicans, their share of blame is not as lopsided as during the 1995 shutdowns when Bill Clinton was in office, and polls disagree on whether Obama is gaining popularity or just holding steady as the standoff progresses.

By 44 percent to 35 percent, more say Republicans in Congress are to blame than Obama/Democrats for the shutdown in a CBS News poll conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday. A simultaneous Fox News poll of registered voters found 42 percent saying either "Republican leaders" or "Tea party Republicans, such as Ted Cruz," are responsible while 32 percent blamed Obama or "Democratic leaders, such as Harry Reid."

Many Americans blame both sides. Fully 17 percent volunteer Obama/Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame in the CBS News poll, while 20 percent in the Fox poll said some combination of the parties are responsible for the shutdown.

Republican blame for the current shutdown is not as one-sided as it was after the last shutdown in 1995-96. Then, nearly twice as many Americans blamed Republicans as Clinton -- 50 to 27 percent -- in a Post-ABC poll right after the 21-day shutdown that ended on January 6, 1996.

Despite taking on less blame, it's not clear whether Obama's standing has improved since the shutdown or just held steady. The Fox News poll found Obama's approval rating jumped five points from early September among voters, 40 to 45 percent, with his ratings on handling health care up seven points over the same period.

But more frequent Gallup tracking polls of the overall adult population find less of a shift immediately before and after the shutdown began. In the three-day wave of interviews ending Tuesday, 45 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved of Obama. His rating in the latest wave is 44 percent approve/50 percent disapprove, a shift that is within the range of statistical noise for the survey of roughly 1,500 people.

Republicans' blame deficit and Obama's limited gains sync closely with Americans' attitudes before the shutdown began. Just 26 percent in a pre-shutdown Washington Post-ABC News poll approved of the way Republicans in Congress were handling budget negotiations, compared with 41 percent who approved of Obama. At least half disapproved of each. And two of three polls found more saying they would blame Republicans if a shutdown would occur.

The ongoing shutdown has the potential to drag down on everyone in Washington. In the CBS News poll, nearly eight in 10 said both Republicans and Obama should compromise rather than stick with their positions, even as both have remained unmoved days into the shutdown. Fully 72 percent disapprove of partially shutting down the government over differences about the 2010 health care law.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.