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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Public Opinion and the Shutdown

Herewith are 10 data-driven observations about the current government shutdown situation:

  1. Opinion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) tilts negative in almost all recent polls, although the margin of the negative tilt varies widely. In Gallup's last poll, 41% approved and 49% disapproved. The Kaiser Family Foundation's September poll finds a 43% to 39% unfavorable over favorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act. Of those who have a negative reaction in the Kaiser poll, about 17% (7% of the total sample) said it is because the ACA doesn't go far enough. 
  2. No poll that I have seen so far supports the idea of shutting down the government in order to stop the ACA from continuing to unfold. Or, for that matter, defunding it. The percentage of Americans who favor either of these options is significantly smaller than the percentage who have an unfavorable opinion of the healthcare law. In other words, although Americans generally tilt negative in their opinion on the ACA, opinion does not go so far as to say that defunding or shutting down the government should be used in order to stop it. (Here's a useful summary.)
  3. The public so far tilts toward giving Obama more of a favorable reaction than the Republicans in this shutdown. In Gallup's latest survey, it was Obama at 40% vs. Republicans in Congress at 35%, in terms of who is acting more responsibly. More Americans say this shutdown is about political positioning than say it is about principle. This same cynical attitude pertained back in the 1995 shutdown.
  4. The most important problem facing the country today (prior to the shutdown), per the American people, is the economy/jobs and fixing government, not healthcare. 
  5. The shutdown is dramatically affecting Americans' economic confidence. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index has now dropped by more than 10 points over the past several days and stands as low as it has been since August 2012. 
  6. Most Americans are not ideologically extreme. Based on over 15,000 interviews conducted in September, 9% of Americans define themselves as “very conservative” and a smaller 5% are “very liberal.” The biggest slice of the public is “moderate” -- 37% -- while 28% are conservative and 18% are liberal. In other words, Americans, based on these self-classifications, hew more to the middle.
  7. Perhaps as a result of this centrist position of Americans, the majority of Americans want their elected representatives to compromise when there are disputes, not stand on principle.
  8. Prior to the shutdown, Obama had a higher approval rating than either of the four congressional leaders, either straight-up or on an approve/disapprove ratio basis (which takes into account the higher "don’t knows" for the leaders).
  9. Gallup's September congressional approval reading was 19%. The all-time low Gallup Congress approval rating was 10% recorded twice in 2012. Gallup’s new October reading will be published on Monday, and at that point it will be evident whether or not the public's approval of Congress could reach a new low.
  10. About two-thirds of Americans would tell their children not to go into politics as a profession, although this is not a new sentiment. Members of Congress have a 10% honesty and ethics rating, above only car salesmen out of 22 professions tested.   

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