February 28, 2011

More Side with Wisconsin Unions than Governor

Obama, GOP Leaders Would Share Blame in Gov't Shutdown

Overview

By a modest margin, more say they back Wisconsin’s public employee unions rather than the state’s governor in their continuing dispute over collective bargaining rights. Roughly four-in-ten (42%) say they side more with the public employee unions, while 31% say they side more with the governor, Scott Walker, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted Feb. 24-27 among 1,009 adults.

In Washington, meanwhile, prospects for an imminent government shutdown decreased as Republicans and Democrats neared a short-term budget deal. However, the public is divided over who would be more to blame if the federal government were to shut down as a result of a budget impasse: 36% say Republicans would be more to blame, 35% say the Obama administration and 17% volunteer that both would be to blame. This question was asked jointly by the Pew Research and The Washington Post.

Opinions are notably different today than they were the last time a budget battle threatened a government shutdown. In November 1995, a Washington Post/ABC News survey asked a similar question and found that 46% said a possible government shutdown would be mainly the Republicans’ fault; just 27% said the bulk of the blame would fall on the Clinton administration.

The differences in opinions between now and then may well be more linked to changes in views of the GOP House Speaker rather than the Democratic president. Obama’s current approval rating of 49% is about the same as Bill Clinton’s in October 1995 (48%).

But the current House Speaker, John Boehner, is viewed far less negatively than Newt Gingrich was in 1995. In December 2010, 28% expressed a favorable opinion of Boehner while 25% had an unfavorable view. In August 1995, a few months before the budget impasse, 30% had a favorable view of Gingrich while 54% had an unfavorable opinion.

Democrats, Young, Less Affluent Side Strongly With Unions

Democrats overwhelmingly side with the government employee unions in the ongoing dispute in Wisconsin. Two- thirds (67%) say this, compared with just 12% who say they side more with the governor. About half of Republicans (53%) say they side more with Gov. Walker; 17% say they side more with the public employee unions. Independents are evenly divided (39% side more with the unions, 34% more with the governor).

Among those ages 18 to 29, nearly half (46%) say they side more with the public employee unions, while 13% say they side with the governor. Among those 65 and older, the balance is reversed – but the gap more narrow (45% say they side more with the governor, 33% with the unions).

While whites are nearly evenly divided (38% unions, 36% governor), non-white people are much more likely to say they side more with the unions that represent public employee workers (51% vs. 19%).

And while those with household incomes of $75,000 or more are divided (36% side more with the unions, 40% with the governor), those earning less clearly side more with the government employee unions. Among those with family income of less than $30,000, 46% say they side more with the unions, while 20% say they side more with the governor.

Partisan Divide on Potential Blame for Federal Shutdown

Looking at the possibility of a federal government shutdown if Republicans and the Obama administration cannot agree on a budget, partisans on both sides would put the bulk of the blame on the opposing party.

About seven-in-ten Republicans (69%) say the administration would be most to blame. Just 8% would blame their own party’s leaders. More than six-in-ten Democrats (63%) say congressional Republicans would be most responsible for any shutdown, while 11% say the administration would be most to blame. Independents are divided: 32% say Republicans and 37% say the administration would be mostly to blame. Among all three groups, 17% say both would share the blame equally.

In November 1995, just days before a standoff between congressional Republicans and the Clinton administration led to a partial government shutdown, most Democrats (71%) said Republicans would be responsible for any shutdown, while a smaller majority of Republicans (57%) put the blame on Clinton. Unlike today, many more independents said they would blame the Republicans (46%) than the Clinton administration (24%).

In early January 1996, with the government in a partial shutdown, the public continued to put more blame on the Republicans, according to a second ABC News/Washington Post survey. At that point, a plurality (44%) said the GOP was mainly to blame for the shutdown, while 25% said the Clinton administration was mainly to blame and 24% blamed both sides.