Here's What Americans Really Think -- And Know -- About The Government Shutdown

And what they don't know.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Last weekend’s shutdown didn’t help the image of anyone in Washington, a new survey finds, although it’s less clear how much of the public really cares — or knows — about three days worth of Capitol Hill skirmishing.

Polls on who bears the most responsibility for the shutdown vary, in part based on which groups respondents are given the option to blame. But in a HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans have plenty of reproach to go around.

Congress as a whole gets the worst marks, with 61 percent disapproving of the legislative body’s handling of the shutdown. Both congressional Democrats and Republicans get negative ratings from a majority of the public. Smaller pluralities also disapprove of the role played by President Donald Trump, and by their own congressional representatives.


But only about 9 percent of the public say they were in some way personally affected by the shutdown. And even that number probably overstates the share who faced any concrete harm — for some of them, the impact was, to put it charitably, nebulous. “Democrats are cry babies and I had to hear about it during this time,” one respondent said, while another explained that the whole thing had made him sad.

Some, however, said they’d faced furloughs or job-related uncertainty, or a lapse in services over the weekend.

“I am a government contractor who was furloughed, and will not be paid for the time off, unlike government employees who inevitably will be paid,” one Nevada man wrote. “It also dragged out some old memories of ... government shutdowns in the past [that] affected me and my troops when I was still active-duty military.”

Among the small group of respondents who said they’d been affected, more than 80 percent report following the shutdown closely, with a plurality considering it a very serious problem.

But among the full public, it’s a different story. Although 64 percent of the public said the shutdown was at least a somewhat serious problem, just 29 percent considered it very serious. Just under a quarter report following the shutdown very closely, with another third saying they paid somewhat close attention to it. Only 30 percent said they have a very good understanding of what caused the showdown.

Other survey results suggest that some of the complicated political dynamics of the shutdown eluded many: while 43 percent knew that Republicans in Congress were divided during the closure, 23 percent thought they were united, with the rest unsure. A plurality weren’t sure how much immigration advocates had been asked to compromise to resolve the shutdown, or to what extent they’d gotten what they wanted from the debate.

As part of the survey, we asked some of respondents who said they’d paid at least a little attention to the shutdown to explain, in their own words, exactly what happened.

“Republicans don’t have enough votes in the Senate to invoke cloture without some Democratic support,” one man, who followed the news online and on the radio, wrote. “The Democrats used what little leverage they had as the minority party to get concessions on the [Children’s Health Insurance Program] and to get a vote on immigration.”

Of those who answered the question, under half mentioned immigration, the dispute over the Deferred Action got Childhood Arrivals program, or the border wall.

About a quarter had only a vague impression of government dysfunction (“A bunch of politicians would rather shut down the government than compromise”), or, in some cases, not even that (“I honestly don’t know why the government shut down but I’m guessing it did for an important reason or maybe Donald Trump ordered for it to happen? I have no clue”).

Even among those following the matter more closely, answers varied widely along political lines.

“Democrats voted to shut down the government despite the fact they disapproved of nothing” in the funding bill, summarized one Republican-leaning independent, who said she’d learned about the closure from watching local television and Fox News. “It was posturing on their part to distract from Trump’s first year anniversary in office.”

“Democrats voted against passing the budget because they want funding to go towards illegal aliens and DACA,” another Republican wrote. “There’s more to it I’m sure, but that is the underlying reason. People that don’t enter our country without taking the proper steps and following the law are more important to far left liberals than actual tax paying US citizens, no matter how they spin it.”

Those across the aisle offered rather different explanations.

“Moderates on both sides had come to an agreement, but hardliners on immigration like Stephen Miller blew it up,” one Democrat said, referring to the White House aide known for his restrictionist immigration views. “Now we wait until February to go through this all over again.” (On that point, Americans as a whole are similarly pessimistic: 60 percent think it’s at least somewhat likely that, within the next month, the government will shut down again.)

“Democrats wanted a deal on [DACA],” wrote another Democrat, who said he stayed up-to-date on the shutdown by watching MSNBC. “Republicans wanted their boss to have his wall, and don’t care if hundreds of thousands of children, and law-abiding people have their lives ruined to get that done. Republicans shut down the government. Dems caved. Government re-opened.”

He wasn’t the only one to appear unimpressed with his party’s handling of the situation. Congress’ lousy numbers for handling the shutdown are driven largely by the fact that, while Democrats and Republicans are likely to lay more blame at the feet of one another, neither side seems overwhelmingly thrilled with their own leaders, either.

Just two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they approve of the GOP’s handling of the shutdown, while fewer than half of Democrats approve of the Democratic Party’s approach. Unusually, Democrats even say by a two-to-one margin that they disapprove of their own representatives’ performance.

“Democrats and Republicans refused to deal with issues that they knew were coming until the budget and public pressure drove them to it,” griped one Michigan Democrat, who said she disapproved of every group’s handling of the shutdown. “It is not like the budget does not come around every year, and this continued drama is ridiculous.”

Just 9 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents think their party got everything or most of what it wanted from the shutdown, while 43 percent think it got only some of what was sought, and 24 percent said it got nothing. Just over three in 10 say the party compromised too much.

Republicans and Republican leaners perceive their leaders as faring somewhat better: 36 percent think the GOP got most or all of what it wanted, another 36 percent that it got some, and just 4 percent that it didn’t get anything. Just 16 percent think the GOP compromised too much.

More shutdown polling:

YouGov: “No gains from the shutdown, just lots of blame to go around”

Quinnipiac: “Dems, Trump Share Blame For ‘Unnecessary’ Shutdown”

NBC/SurveyMonkey: “Poll: Democrats, Trump to blame for government shutdown”

Washington Post: “Who do Americans blame for the shutdown? The people they already hate.”

Fox News: “Voters spread the blame for government shutdown”

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 22-23 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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