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October 07, 2013 5:39 PM Don’t Read Too Much Into the “Blame” Polls Just Yet

By Ed Kilgore

A lot of progressives may well be high-fiving each other over some polling evidence—particularly in the new WaPo-ABC survey—showing Republicans “losing” the public opinion battle over blame for the government shutdown. I have some reservations about the meaning of such polls, precisely for the same reason I discount a significant percentage of the “disapproval of Obamacare” surveys: different people disapprove for different reasons that may have diametrically opposed political implications.

Yes, the WaPo/ABC poll shows an increasing gap among the generally negative takes on Obama’s, congressional Democrats’ and congressional Republicans’ approval ratings on how they are handling “budget negotiations.” Yes, it’s significant that self-identified independents—who tend to lean R these days—approve of Obama (41%) and congressional Democrats (31%) modestly more than they approve of congressional Republicans (23%) on budget issues.

But the big differentiator is that self-identified Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of the budget fight by a 77/21 margin, while self-identified GOPers approve of their congressional party’s positioning by a mere 52/45 margin. And while the internals of this poll don’t correlate findings by party and ideology, it’s interesting that self-identified “very conservative” voters only approve of the GOP position by a spare 50/47 margin, whereas liberals approve of Obama’s position by 69/28 margin.

What we know beyond the numbers is that despite John Boehner’s forced march towards Ted Cruz’s position on the government shutdown and Obamacare, quite a few conservative opinion-leaders don’t think GOPers have gone far enough. In particular, the Senate Conservative Fund and Heritage Action—along with RedState’s Erick Erickson—have been loudly unhappy with Boehner’s “watering down” of the bedrock “defund Obamacare” position on the continuing resolution.

So it’s entirely possible that a portion of the “blame gap” is represented by conservatives who wouldn’t side with Obama or congressional Democrats on the appropriations or debt limit issues if pigs learned to fly—just as a sizable portion of the people claimed by Republicans as “repeal Obamacare” fans actually favor a single payer system and wouldn’t back GOPers on health care issues if their lives depended on it.

The WaPo-ABC poll is an improvement over those surveys that offer little in the way of internal analysis of the “blame game,” but we need more nuanced information—and probably a bit more time—before reaching any big conclusions. On both Obamacare and the budget, of course, the habit that Republicans have of claiming “the American people” are with them or that they are uniquely “listening to the people” is a complete crock.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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