Political Fallout of Government Shutdown

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As the federal government shutdown continues, both political parties continue to blame each other. Arizona State University political science professor Richard Herrera will discuss the political fallout of the shutdown.

Ted Simons: Finger pointing and the blame game are among the few things working overtime on Capitol Hill right now as the federal government shutdown continues. We talked last night about the shutdown's possible economic impact on Arizona. Tonight we look at the political fallout. Joining us is ASU political science professor Richard Herrera. Good to see you again.

Richard Herrera: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: How serious is the country taking this shutdown?

Richard Herrera: Not as seriously as you would think. There's about 30 percent of the American people who are paying close attention to it. Another 25 percent who are kind of paying attention to it. And then there's a sizable minority, about 40 percent who are really not engaged at all. And then when you look further into that, the group of people who are paying the least amount of attention are people in the younger age groups, 18 to 25, really not engaged at all.

Ted Simons: Is that a surprise to you as a political scientist? It's one thing to say younger folks or certain demographics don't vote, but to not pay attention to something that seems to be all over the news these days.

Richard Herrera: It's consistent with voting patterns as well. Older voters are paying closer attention than younger voters, just like older voters vote more than younger voters, for example. It's not too surprising to me, only because the public's attention to complex political issues always tends to be fairly low. And if we compare it back to the last time we had a situation like this, it's pretty consistent. Not a lot of -- Not as many Americans as you might think are paying close attention.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to the 1995 shutdown in a second here, but before we do, does the public seem in general to know what both sides want?

Richard Herrera: Yes and no. Depending on which fight you're talking about. If you're talking about the government shutdown, it's unclear to a lot of voters what Republicans are really after. That is, what would satisfy them in terms of making a deal? On the other hand, looking at the president and the senate, it's a bit unclear as to why the president is being portrayed as not negotiating. What is there to negotiate about? That's about the government shutdown. And in another week we've got the debt ceiling debate. That's a much more complicated story for Americans to understand.

Ted Simons: It's much more complicated, but the ramifications are far more serious. Maybe not far more serious, but certainly more serious in the short-term. Is that resonating with the public?

Richard Herrera: Not yet. In the same way last time it came up, it doesn't really start to resonate until you get very, very close to the deadline and then you get numbers like we're getting now. 35 to 50 percent of people paying close attention to it.

Ted Simons: Talk more about numbers here. Who's getting the most blame?

Richard Herrera: Depending on the poll you look at, you get different numbers. The most recent poll I've seen shows that both parties are getting some blame. In fact it's very close. While conventional wisdom would suggest Republicans in the House would be getting the most blame, they're getting some. But they're not necessarily getting all of it. And most Americans are not saying that Republicans are necessarily wrong, and they're not saying the president necessarily is wrong, which suggests there is a little confusion, and an unwillingness to take sides.

Ted Simons: Would that be a case, the long they're drags out, the more the public is aware, the more the public learns the firmer the opinions are?

Richard Herrera: Yes. That would be the case. And in fact as that tends to happen, at least we compare it to historical cases, then it begins to look like Congress is more to blame than the president.

Ted Simons: But then again, it doesn't sound like Congress is in any hurry right now to do something about it. Certainly internal polling would suggest to them you can only go before so long before 1995 happens again, and talk about the fallout from that shutdown.

Richard Herrera: Right. The fallout from that shutdown is less conclusive than we think. Conventional wisdom is Republicans suffered terribly as a result of the shutdown. And they did suffer in some ways, but if we look at some historical facts regarding that situation, the president for example, President Clinton at the time, his approval ratings were fairly high, much higher than President Obama's at the time. And they were on an upward trajectory before and they continued that way. Congress was also not very well regarded at the time, and they continued that way, but they didn't necessarily take a huge dip. In fact in the following election, the big news was that in 1996 President Clinton won reelection comfortably. A lot of factors went into that. It's unclear whether the shutdown had anything to do with that. In fact, Republicans did not fare poorly in those elections. I think they actually gained some seats. So it's unclear that they actually suffered as badly as conventional wisdom would suggest. If we fast forward to today, the dynamics in the House of Representatives are quite interesting because in many cases the Republicans who are calling the most for -- to stand their ground and stay principle, are insulated from electoral ramifications. That is, there's no consequence to them for shutting down the government electorally. That's the primary motivation for most members of Congress, to get reelected. If there are no electoral consequences for them, they tend not to be listening to voices who say we have to be reasonable or we have to make a deal there. There are some situations where you have members of Congress particularly Republicans, who are in less safe seats. They tend to be the ones who are more likely and the ones in some cases who have come forward and said I'm willing to vote for a clean continuing resolution that would fund the government. The other factor that comes into play are those members of Congress, those Republicans, who are congressional districts where they have a higher percentage of federal workers as a share of the employees in that district. Because of course, they're the ones who are furloughed, they're starting to hear from those constituents and they're also, they constitute quite a few of the, 19 right now, Republicans who have come forward and said we would vote to fund the government.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, can the GOP, House GOP, can they back down? Can the Senate, Democratic senate back down or be perceived as backing down? How does the public -- We all want compromise. We all want to see people working together. But is it going to be a sign of weakness if one side backs down?

Richard Herrera: To some voters it will be seen as a sign of weakness. For example, specifically Republican voters who identify themselves as Tea Party voters, they would be very disenchanted by Republicans who then - who now back down in the House of Representatives. And they have already formed groups to put pressure on House Republicans who do that. And they constitute an important part of the Republican party base. They could become disenchanted with the Republican party, they could sit out the 2014 election, which would be not good for those Republicans who are in semi safe seats. But for the majority of Americans, just with looking at Republicans and Democrats, they're more interested in compromise. They're more interested in seeing a solution found than they are with members of Congress sticking to principles. And so you would guess the result would be most Americans would not be rewarding this sort of behavior. In fact they would be looking to punish this behavior. But again when you have so members of the House of Representatives in safe seats, it's hard to punish and reward.

Ted Simons: This seems to be all based on the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare if you will. What is the public opinion of the Affordable Care Act? Because it would seem to me if public opinion is relatively strong one way or another, that side would have the benefit. Do most Americans not want the Affordable Care Act?

Richard Herrera: That's true. In fact, it's a slim margin. So about 53 percent of Americans when asked would say they're not in favor of the Obamacare law the way it's written now. The Affordable Care Act is not as popular as it might have been at one time or it might be in the future. Still, 42 percent of Americans do think the Affordable Care Act is a good idea and that it will work. If you take that 53 percent who think it's not working or have an unfavorable opinion of it, a good percentage of those 53 percent nonetheless don't think it should be used as a lever to make a deal with the president with regard to the government shutdown.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, what is the history of using any policy as a lever to get something done? Especially threatening and shutting down the government over policy. Is 1995 the only time that's happened in our history?

Richard Herrera: It's the only time it's happened when the result was a government shutdown. So in that case the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, saw government shutdown as the ultimate lever that the legislative branch or the Congress had in order to counter the power of the executive branch was the veto, of course. And so if that's their only lever, he decided that's what we should use. At that time it was still a budget fight, it was a slightly different circumstances, but they were fighting over a balanced budget proposal. And both sides had agreed that OK, we'll have a gradual move towards a balanced budget, but the situation was quite different in so far as Congress had already appropriated funds for three departments and so it wasn't as if the government shutdown at the time was complete, and it was at the time many Americans can remember 1995-96. At the time, there was no memory of a government shutdown, so it was much more of a shock.

Ted Simons: We've had it happen twice, both times with the Republican party kind of leading the way here. Why haven't the Democrats used the same tactic?

Richard Herrera: That's a very interesting question. I think democrats do -- As a whole, if you look at the public and you look at the way Democrats see legislating, they don't see shutting down the government as viable as an option. That is, they're less willing to take those ultimate steps, which is one reason to go back to one of your earlier questions about who wins and loses. Democrats, strong Democrats, liberal Democrats are loving that the president and Harry Reid are sticking to their guns and they're not budging. Because they see this as a capitulation, just as we've seen in the past, that never works, never results in anything they want. So they want to see a strong president, a strong Senate hold their ground. But that's not most Americans.

Ted Simons: Well, good numbers. Very interesting stuff. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Richard Herrera:Political Science Professor, Arizona State University;

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