With hours to go before a potential federal government shutdown Friday night over funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump and Democrats are blaming each other for the gridlock.
On Friday morning, Trump tweeted, “Shutdown today if Democrats do not vote for Border Security!,” threatening a “very long” shutdown if Democrats vote against a House-passed bill that included $5.7 billion toward a border wall. Trump also declared “The Democrats now own the shutdown.”
Democrats have refused to support a bill that includes funding for the wall, and the Senate was headed toward possibly blocking the House bill from reaching the necessary 60 votes to proceed. Earlier Friday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted, “You own the shutdown—your own words, @realDonaldTrump,” apparently referring to a heated Oval Office meeting last week in which Trump said that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” and that he would not blame it on Schumer or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
So who are Americans likely to blame for the shutdown? It’s impossible to be sure who the public will blame most, but polls point to three factors indicating the public is more likely to blame Trump than Democrats this time around. Trump does have at least one factor working in his favor, however.
1. More Americans said they would blame Trump and Republicans for a shutdown
Earlier this month, a Quinnipiac University poll asked registered voters who they would blame more for a government’s shutdown: Trump and Republicans in Congress together or Democrats in Congress. By a 14-point margin, more voters overall said they would blame Trump and Republicans than Democrats, 51 percent to 37 percent.
Democrats were more united on the issue, with 90 percent blaming Trump and Republicans for a potential shutdown compared with 76 percent of Republicans who blamed Democrats. But independents also sided more with Democrats, with 48 percent of the swing-voting block saying Trump and Republicans would be to blame compared with 39 percent who blamed Democrats. That margin is notably similar to how independents voted in November’s midterm elections, voting for Democrats over Republicans by a 12-point margin, according to national exit polls reported by CNN.
2. Most Americans still oppose building the border wall
Throughout his campaign for president, Trump promised to build a wall along the southern border and force Mexico to pay for it. But while the wall has been popular among Republicans and Trump voters, a majority of the public overall has opposed it.
Quinnipiac polling from this week found 43 percent of registered voters supported building the wall, up five points since August to a record high-point in the firm’s polling. But 54 percent of voters still oppose the wall. Other recent polls show opposition to a wall outpacing support by roughly 20 points. In a December CNN poll, 57 percent of Americans opposed the wall, compared with 38 percent who supported it. A CBS poll from October found a similar 60 percent in opposition to the wall and 37 percent in support.
A large majority of Republicans support building the wall — 86 percent in the Quinnipiac poll — though fewer than half of independents back the proposal, 45 percent, and 90 percent of Democrats oppose the wall.
3. Republicans are not unified in saying Trump should go to the mat over wall funding
Republicans overwhelmingly support the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and a December NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found over 6 in 10 Republicans thought building the wall should be an “immediate priority” for Congress, including three-quarters of self-defined “strong Republicans.”
That same survey found a 65 percent majority of Republicans saying Trump “should not compromise on the border wall even if it means a government shutdown,” although a sizable 29 percent minority of Republicans said Trump should compromise to avoid gridlock.
Yet an older poll found less support for Trump using a shutdown threat to overcome congressional opposition to wall funding.
An August 2017 Fox News survey found 39 percent of registered voters overall who supported a wall and asked this group: “If Congress does not approve funding for construction of a border wall, would you favor or oppose President Trump shutting down the federal government to pressure lawmakers to fund the wall?” Wall supporters split near evenly, with 45 percent in favor of Trump shutting down the government to pressure lawmakers to fund it, while 43 percent opposed this.
Looking at all registered voters, 18 percent both favored the wall and said Trump should shut down the government to pressure Congress to fund it. A 38 percent minority of Republican voters supported both the wall and a tactical government shutdown, as did 41 percent of voters who supported Trump in the 2016 election.
4. The public is more supportive of border security funding in general
Trump has increasingly connected support for the border wall with “border security” in general, and it is probably not by mistake: Americans are widely concerned about border security, and painting opponents of the wall as resistant to border security efforts in general could help Trump shift blame for the shutdown toward Democrats.
A July 2018 Washington Post-Schar School poll found 65 percent supported “increased funding for border security programs,” far higher than 42 percent who supported building a border wall.
For Trump, getting funding for the wall is now or never
Trump’s insistence on funding for the border wall by the end of the year makes strategic sense given it will probably be his last opportunity to do so before his 2020 reelection bid. Democrats won control of the House in November’s elections and will first wield that power in January, and will be extremely reluctant to support funding for border walls or similar barriers without major concessions from Trump on other immigration issues.
But the politics of government shutdowns can be surprising, and it was Democrats who caved during a government shutdown in January after pushing hard for Congress to vote in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. This December’s debate is centered on a policy Trump wants, however, but that’s no guarantee either side will get what it wants.