For Republicans, the last 10 days have felt like falling down a darkened elevator shaft: You want to hit bottom, but wonder about the odds of survival.
In what has become an almost daily occurrence, Thursday night brought another poll showing the damage the party has suffered as a result of the government shutdown. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that the party’s popularity had dropped and Americans were far more likely to blame them for the goings-on in Washington than their Democratic opponents.
--Only 24% of Americans had a favorable view of Republicans, the lowest figure in the poll’s multi-year history and four percentage points lower than last month. Another low: only 21% had a favorable view of the tea party.
--President Obama’s standing was relatively stable, the pollsters said, moving from 45% favorable last month to 47% now, within the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 points. Democrats overall were at 39% positive, with congressional Democrats at 36%.
--70% of Americans said Republicans were putting politics ahead of what was best for the country. A lesser 51% said that about Obama.
Those numbers could certainly change. An extended shutdown or a break in negotiations that started Thursday could persuade Americans to throw in the towel with everyone in D.C. (The poll ended Wednesday night, before glimmers of hope surfaced Thursday.) If things go well, too, legislators will have time to reboot their images before election day 13 months from now.
But underlying poll conclusions suggested that recovery will not be easy. Despite a concerted GOP effort to blame Democrats for the shutdown, Americans blamed Republicans by a 22-percentage-point margin (53% to 31%). During the last government shutdowns in the Clinton administration, the pollsters noted, Republicans received less blame, but even that was politically damaging because it helped Clinton win reelection.
Voters typically are more critical of Congress as a body than of their own member of Congress — but the trend in the poll on a question about the 2014 campaigns followed the direction of everything else: Last month, voters preferred a Democratically-controlled Congress to the present Republican House by 3 percentage points. This month, the difference is 8 points.
Most hurtful to the Republican cause, the program the party sought to gut is gaining in popularity as time goes on. Almost 4 in 10 saw the nation’s healthcare program as a good idea, up from just over 3 in 10 a month ago. The percentage of people who disapproved of shutting down the government in pursuit of killing the law also ticked up slightly.
The temptation, for Republicans at least, may be to dismiss the survey, or to remind the country that the only poll that counts is on election day, and much time and political intrigue stands between now and then. But the sheer echo of multiple polls saying the same thing threatens to overwhelm those arguments, like a storm creating its own weather.
Just this week, an Associated Press-GfK survey showed that Congress had dropped to an approval rating of 5%.
More in line with the NBC/WSJ poll, a Gallup survey showed the Republican Party viewed favorably by only 28% of Americans, down 10 percentage points in a month. The rating was the lowest for any party since Gallup started asking the question 21 years ago. Democrats, too, had suffered, but they started higher and fell less.