It’s unsurprising that Americans overwhelmingly blame President Trump for the latest partial shutdown of the federal government. After all, he and Congressional Republicans are unambiguously responsible for it, and in a televised meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office last month he ostentatiously offered to take the blame for it in advance.
But lost in coverage of polls dramatically showing just how much of the blame the president is taking, like the Washington Post-ABC News poll showing 53% blaming “the president and Republicans in Congress” that was featured on the political talk shows this past Sunday morning, was a warning sign for Democrats.
A CBS News/YouGov poll from Friday showed that, perhaps surprisingly in view of how many Americans blame Trump for the shutdown, only 33% of Americans approve of Democrats’ handling of the shutdown, compared to the 35% approving of Trump’s handling of the crisis. (Approval of Congressional Republicans’ handling of the shutdown lagged at 21%.) Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the shutdown, strikingly close to the number who blame him for it in several polls, while 46% disapprove of the Democrats.
There are many ways to interpret the data, but one way might be to speculate that Americans distinguish between blame for a situation and satisfactory governance once we’re in it. Democrats can be sure that they aren’t being blamed by very many people for the initiation of the shutdown compared to President Trump, but the CBS poll results show they could still be blamed for not doing a good enough job at trying to end it.
Indeed, even the Washington Post poll that got so much attention Sunday for showing the majority of Americans blame Trump for the situation also showed that 45% of those opposing a wall, when asked if they’d prefer Democrats keep refusing to fund a wall or instead compromise on that question in order to get government reopened, want Democrats to compromise. That’s nearly as many as the 50% who want them to steadfastly continue to refuse wall funding even if it means prolonging the shutdown. The share of wall opponents calling for compromise by Democrats is larger than that of wall proponents calling for compromise by Trump, who comprise only 39% of that group, with 57% wanting him to continue to demand wall funding as a condition of opening the government. The Post poll also showed that wall proponents were a larger group in the country at large than they have been at any point to date, at 42% percent.
Last week’s polling confirmed that Democrats are not being blamed much at all compared to the blame being heaped on the president for shutting down the government over his desire for border wall funding. But polling from a similar time period should not give Democrats confidence that they can rely on that eye-popping number to ensure sustained support for the approach they have chosen for their response to the shutdown so far. With a larger percentage (45%) of those opposing wall funding wanting Democrats nevertheless to compromise on it in order to get the government running again than the percentage of all Americans who currently approve of their handling of the shutdown (33%), it is difficult to see how the number supporting the kind of approach the Democrats have taken so far so far will grow as the shutdown drags on.