As House Speaker Mike Johnson faced his first major test in avoiding a government shutdown, the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll finds that most of the American public has grown weary of political games on Capitol Hill. Three out of four U.S. adults say that it is unacceptable for members of Congress to leverage the threat of a federal closure during budget negotiations – a sentiment that held true for majorities across political parties.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 336-95 on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government at current levels and allow it to stay open. It’s a two-part plan that temporarily funds one group of agencies through Jan. 19 and another through Feb. 2. The resolution now moves to the Senate, where leaders have said they expect the package to pass ahead of Friday’s shutdown deadline.
While 209 Democrats crossed the aisle to help pass the continuing resolution, political polarization in recent years has allowed the threat of a government shutdown to become a “bargaining chip,” said Republican strategist Whit Ayres.
According to the latest poll, conducted Nov. 6 to Nov. 9 as the shutdown deadline loomed, just 23 percent of U.S. adults said they think such a threat is an acceptable bargaining chip in negotiations, but Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats or independents to say that.
The reason Johnson had to reach out to Democrats was reluctance from his own party to compromise – 93 Republican holdouts voted no Tuesday night.
“Especially in the Trump era, Republicans have viewed compromise as surrender,” Ayres said.
That polarization has reshaped whom the public blames when the government grinds to a halt, said Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter. Major events that once posed cataclysmic consequences for political parties, such as toying with a government shutdown “just don’t have that same impact today,” Walter said. “Folks see that it is an improper thing to do, and they blame the other side.”
This poll also found:
- 49 percent of Americans would blame Republicans in Congress if a shutdown happens. Meanwhile, 43 percent say Biden and Democrats in Congress hold most of the responsibility if political impasse were to stall out the government.
- While Republicans and Democrats blame each other, independents in this latest poll are largely split over whom they would blame.
- 6 percent blamed both Republicans and Democrats, including Biden, equally. That’s a significantly smaller number than in 2015, when 21 percent of U.S. adults overall blamed both Congress and the president for what was happening.
- Roughly four in 10 Americans blame both Democrats and Republicans for the nation’s current debt.
For decades, the nation’s debt has served as a lightning rod for Republican discontent over the U.S. budget, but arguments over how to keep government offices open and functioning for the next fiscal year have become increasingly heated, breeding a sense of instability beyond the federal workforce.
Here are more takeaways on how U.S. adults feel about the dynamics behind recent chaos on Capitol Hill.
Dysfunction in Congress
In this high-stakes moment, many people still don’t know who Johnson is.
- 46 percent of U.S. adults in this latest poll said they did not recognize his name. Among those who said they were familiar with Johnson, 23 percent said they held a favorable view of him, while another 31 percent regarded him unfavorably.
- When asked generally about how Johnson should approach the business of the House, a majority of Americans – 67 percent – said it is more important that he compromises to find solutions. At the same time, 27 percent of Americans said Johnson should stand on principle, even if it means gridlock.
- In the weeks after the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 35 percent of Americans believe it will be more difficult for House Republicans to work with members of their own party than with Democrats. Another 59 percent of Americans said Republicans will face greater difficulty working with House Democrats.
- 60 percent said Democrats were the more unified party, compared to 27 percent who saw Republicans as better unified.
- This poll asked whether people feel more that the political system is broken or that members of Congress “are the problem.” More than two-thirds of Americans think the U.S. political system works well and that members of Congress are the source of difficulties. A majority of Americans – regardless of politics, race, education or income – say they feel that way, and this level of disdain for Congressional behavior marks a 15-percentage point increase in less than a decade, according to the latest poll.
- Fewer than a third of Americans say the nation’s system of governance is broken and believe that most members of Congress have good intentions.
Biden’s approval numbers frozen
Biden’s consistently dismal approval numbers seem immune to good news or bad. In this latest poll, the president saw little measurable shift in public opinion.
- About half of Americans – 51 percent – say they disapprove of the president, a sentiment that has remained statistically frozen since March, according to this latest poll.
- Biden still faces a stubborn enthusiasm gap, with U.S. adults remaining twice as likely to strongly disapprove of what Biden has done as president than to strongly approve.
The PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey on Nov. 6 through Nov. 9 that polled 1,429 U.S. adults with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points and 1,293 registered voters with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.