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Shutting Down The Government Over DACA Is A Risky Bet For Democrats

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song is “The Critic — Main Theme” from the television show “The Critic.

Poll of the week

Congress on Thursday postponed its fight over government funding for a couple of weeks. But Democrats may still try to make future funding contingent on replacing former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.canceled by President Trump earlier this year.


A number of Senate Democrats, including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, are threatening to vote against funding the government if some form of DACA isn’t reinstated. And at a minimum, some Democratic votes will be needed in the Senate to get the necessary 60 votes to pass a funding bill in the coming weeks.

Polling shows both that a majority of Americans are in favor of renewing DACA and that more Americans would blame Republicans if a government shutdown occurred. But Democrats would be making a risky political bet if they force a shutdown over DACA.

A new Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll shows that just 17 percent of Americans believe that finding a replacement for DACA is an extremely important priority for Congress and President Trump to work on the rest of this year. That ranked 12th among the 15 domestic issues tested by Harvard. Even among Democrats, only 20 percent said renewing DACA was an extremely important priority.

In other words: Support and saliency are not the same thing. Most people want DACA replaced. But for a lot of people, it’s not enough of a priority to shut down the government.

And in fact, there’s some evidence of that in the polling. While Rasmussen Reports surveys can tilt Republican (and the question wording may have been somewhat tilted), they found that if no additional money was spent on border control, 55 percent of voters said they were opposed to a shutdown over protecting people covered under DACA, also known as Dreamers. Just 27 percent were in favor of it.

Morning Consult polls have generally shown that more than 70 percent of Americans want those directly affected by DACA to be allowed to stay in the country. But the most recent Morning Consult survey also found that a mere 25 percent of voters were “definitely” willing to prompt a government shutdown to get that. A slightly higher 28 percent said they were definitely not.

Indeed, shutdowns by their very nature aren’t popular. In the Morning Consult poll, 63 percent of voters said, “Members of Congress should take all necessary steps to avoid a government shutdown. They should achieve their policy goals another way.” And earlier this year, Americans were overwhelmingly against a government shutdown over a U.S.-Mexican border wall.

That’s been true historically, too. When congressional Republicans fought with the past two Democratic presidents (Bill Clinton and Obama) during the shutdowns of 1995-1996 and 2013, congressional Republicans were blamed more than the president for the shutdown. Yet no one escaped unscathed. Polls show Americans didn’t like the actions of either president during the shutdowns, and their job approval ratings seemed to have dropped.

None of this is to say that Democrats would necessarily suffer long-term electoral consequences over a shutdown caused by DACA. The Morning Consult poll did show that a near majority (47 percent) said Dreamers were definitely or maybe worth shutting the government down over, though that is a far lower percentage than those who support a fix to DACA overall. And the midterm elections are still nearly a year away.

Still, Democrats arguably have more to lose politically from a shutdown than Republicans. They hold a large lead on the generic congressional ballot, and Trump is deeply unpopular. Together, this means Democrats have a good shot at taking back the House of Representatives next year. Any unpopular moves such as forcing a shutdown could lower those odds.

Where Alabama’s Senate race stands with just days to go

Other polling nuggets

  • An average of five surveys (Emerson College, Gravis Marketing, Strategy Research, Washington Post and YouGov) released over the past week has Republican Roy Moore clinging to a 2 percentage point lead over Democrat Doug Jones ahead of Tuesday’s Alabama special Senate election. That’s well within the margin of error.
  • Among every domestic issue tested, the highest percentage of Americans, 36 percent, said renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program was an extremely important priority for Congress and the president in that Harvard poll.
  • A majority of Americans, 52 percent, told Quinnipiac University that the people coming forward with their stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault would change the nation for the better.
  • Only 38 percent of Americans feel the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia is a “very serious” problem, according to a YouGov survey. That’s about the same percentage who felt that way after Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey.
  • In January, only 36 percent of Americans were able to correctly identify in a Morning Consult survey that the U.S. Embassy in Israel was located in Tel Aviv; 45 percent said they didn’t know.
  • 44 percent of Americans say they are Democrats or lean Democratic, according to a new Gallup survey, while 37 percent of Americans say they are Republicans or lean Republican. Around the time of the 2016 election, the split was 44 percent Democrats to 42 percent Republicans.
  • Black men at 49 percent and black women at 47 percent are much more likely than white men (28 percent) and white women (27 percent) to identify as “very masculine” and “very feminine,” respectively, according to the Pew Research Center.
  • The percentage of Americans who want a private health care system in the U.S. has dropped to just 48 percent — the lowest since Gallup started asking in 2010.
  • Americans told YouGov that they agreed by a 71 percent to 14 percent margin that music has helped them through a difficult time in their life. (Not coincidentally: There’s a song linked at the top of every Pollapalooza.)

Trump’s job approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating again stayed relatively steady this week, with 37.3 percent approving and 56.4 percent disapproving. Last week, Trump’s approval rating was 38.2 percent and his disapproval rating was 55.8 percent.

The generic ballot

Democrats hold a 46.2 percent to 38.1 percent advantage over the Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. That’s nearly identical to the Democrats’ 45.9 percent to 38.1 percent edge last week.


  1. DACA, of course, was canceled by President Trump earlier this year.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.