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The Media Is Misreading How The Shutdown Blame Game Shook Out

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song is Sammy Davis Jr.’s rendition of “Chico and the Man” from the television show “Chico and the Man.”

Poll of the week

A new Quinnipiac University survey found that 32 percent of voters believe congressional Democrats were primarily responsible for the recent government shutdown; 31 percent blame President Trump, and 18 percent blame congressional Republicans. A number of news outlets have thus focused on the fact that Democrats and Trump are about equally to blame in the public’s eye. Quinnipiac’s own write-up of their poll led with this description.

I think, though, that’s a bad interpretation of the data.

The way the Quinnipiac question was asked meant that respondents were allowed only one answer, but because two of the available options referred to Republicans, Democratic opposition was split between those two responses. Among Democrats, 57 percent said Trump was to blame, 30 percent said congressional Republicans were at fault, and only 4 percent blamed congressional Democrats. Among Republican voters, who didn’t have to contend with two options that put the blame on the other party, the split was 77 percent who said congressional Democrats were most to blame, 5 percent who said Trump and 2 percent who said congressional Republicans.

When you combine the people who blamed Trump and with those who blamed congressional Republicans, you end up with 49 percent of voters saying Republican politicians were at fault vs. 32 blaming Democrats.

Now, is there value in knowing how blame is apportioned between congressional Republicans and Trump? Sure, I guess. But their fates are tied together politically. Polls show that how voters feel about Trump is directly connected to whether they plan on voting for Democrats or Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. And those polls match past election results, which show the president’s approval rating is highly correlated with how his party does in the midterm election.

Indeed, all the shutdown polls really show is that how you feel about Trump and who you blame for the shutdown amount to the same thing. If you approve of Trump’s job performance, you very likely blame Democrats. If you disapprove, you very likely blame Trump or congressional Republicans.

Across six polls, Trump’s net approval rating (the percentage of people who approve of the job he’s doing minus the percentage who disapprove) was always within a few percentage points of the net blame difference (the percentage of people who blamed congressional Democrats minus those who blamed Trump or congressional Republicans). The average difference was just 3 percentage points.

Shutdown blame fell along partisan lines

Polls taken after government shutdown began on Jan. 20

Pollster NEt blame democrats get for shutdown Trump’s net approval Diff.
Fox News* -5 -8 -3
Morning Consult* -13 -11 +2
Public Policy Polling -9 -16 -7
Quinnipiac University* -17 -22 -5
SurveyMonkey* -17 -17 0
YouGov* -9 -13 -4
Average -12 -15 -3

*Combines blame assigned to Trump with blame assigned to Republicans in Congress.

That those two numbers are so close suggests that the shutdown will have minimal electoral effect — it hasn’t seemed to move anyone out of the partisan camp they were already in. That’s backed up by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be major movement in either Trump’s approval rating or the generic congressional ballot as compared to last week. This shouldn’t be too surprising in our highly polarized era. It also matches what we saw with past shutdowns, which didn’t have a big electoral effect.

For now, Trump remains unpopular and Democrats are ahead of Republicans in the 2018 midterm race.

Other polling nuggets

  • A Fox News poll found that 17 percent of voters grade the economy as “excellent.” That’s higher than at any point since Fox News began asking the question in 1998.
  • Republican Rick Saccone holds a 41 percent to 38 percent advantage over Democrat Conor Lamb in a DFM Research survey ahead of a March 13 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.
  • Just 25 percent of Democrats are dissatisfied with current immigration levels and want them decreased, according to Gallup. That’s the lowest number for Democrats that Gallup has ever found.
  • When the Pew Research Center asked whether respondents sympathize more with Israel or Palestinians, 79 percent of Republicans said Israel compared with just 27 percent of Democrats. That’s Republicans’ highest support for Israel since at least 2001, and it’s the lowest Democratic support over the same period.
  • Forty-five percent of Americans said in a CBS News poll that they want abortion to be “generally available,” the highest since CBS News first asked the question in 1992.
  • Republican Sen. Ted Cruz led Democrat Beto O’Rourke 45 percent to 37 percent in a Public Policy Polling survey of Texas’s likely U.S. Senate race.
  • A record-high 58 percent of Americans told NBC/Wall Street Journal pollsters that government should do more to solve problems and help meet people’s needs; 38 percent said the government was doing too many things that are better left to business and individuals.
  • In a Pew Research Center survey, 69 percent of Democrats said they are looking forward to this year’s midterm congressional elections, but only 58 percent of Republicans feel the same way. In 2010 and 2014, Republicans were 15 and 12 percentage points, respectively, more likely than Democrats to look forward to that year’s midterm congressional elections.
  • George W. Bush’s favorable rating is up to 61 percent in a CNN survey. That’s the highest his rating has been in a CNN-sponsored poll since early 2004.
  • Only 37 percent of Americans told YouGov that they always make the bed. Women (41 percent) were more likely than men (32 percent) to say they always make the bed, and people 55 years old and older (47 percent) were waaaay more consistent bed-makers than people aged 25 to 34 (26 percent).

Trump’s job approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating is at 39 percent, while his disapproval rating is at 56 percent. Last week, his approval rating was 39.7 percent, compared with a disapproval rating of 54.9 percent.

The generic ballot

The Democrats’ hold a 46.4 percent to 39.1 percent advantage on the generic congressional ballot this week. That’s down about 1 point from the 47.5 percent to 39.3 percent lead they held last week.

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