Convincing voters to support a government shutdown as a means to halt Obamacare — or at least to pin the blame on President Obama — could prove especially challenging for Republicans pushing this strategy.
A solid majority of voters oppose the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health care law. They're nervous about implementation, which accelerates this fall, and worried about the negative consequences Obamacare could have on their ability to get affordable health insurance and receive high quality care from doctors they choose. Public opinion polls have been rather consistent about this throughout 2013.
But does this voter anxiety translate into support for a plan to shut down the government after fiscal 2013 ends Sept. 30, if Obama and congressional Democrats do not agree to a continuing resolution budget bill that defunds Obamacare, as is being advocated by some Republicans? Not as of early August, according to a July 30 poll conducted for the Tea Party Patriots, a group that supports the strategy.
The survey was done well after the defund-or-shutdown strategy to block further implementation of Obamacare was announced by a cadre of congressional Republicans. Like other polls, it discovered opposition to the Affordable Care Act, concern about implementation and support for delaying all or parts of the law. But the survey also telegraphs the challenge of attempting to convince voters to support a government shutdown or to not hold Republicans responsible for the stalemate.
More respondents, 45 percent, said they would blame the Republicans, versus 41 percent who said they would blame Obama, when asked: "If the government were to be shut down over a budget since the Republicans insisted it contain no funding for Obamacare and the president insisted it did contain funding for Obamacare, who would you blame more for the shutdown, the Republicans in Congress or the president?"
Also inclined to blame the Republicans: Independents by a margin of 43 percent to 38 percent, and moderates, 58 percent to 24 percent. Even 10 percent of self-identified Republicans and 15 percent of conservatives would blame congressional Republicans for a government shutdown, according to the poll, which was conducted by the Republican firm GEB International and surveyed 1,000 likely voters. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
However, by a margin of 48.3 percent to 39.5 percent, with 12.2 percent undecided or saying they didn't know, the survey did find voter support for a "temporary" government shutdown to "delay" implementation of Obamacare.
So, why doesn't this finding prove that Republicans pushing this tactic have devised a winning strategy?
Because this data point was based on voters reacting to a specific and somewhat complicated political message. In any major policy debate or issue campaign, voters are bombarded with several messages from various sources. So there's no guarantee that the poll's tested message will encompass all of the arguments voters hear.
Here's the exact wording of the question the poll posed to respondents, whose partisan and ideological breakdown was as follows: 42.6 percent "conservative;" 30.5 percent "moderate" and 22.4 percent "liberal," with 38.3 percent saying they affiliated with the Democrats, 34 percent with the Republicans and 24 percent independent:
"Would you support or oppose the Congress voting to shut down the government temporarily in order to delay funding for the implementation of Obamacare if you knew the following to be true? 'President Obama pledged if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. But the heads of the three biggest labor unions have said unless changes are made ... that promise is hollow."
Jenny Beth Martin, the Tea Party Patriots national coordinator, said the response to the question shows that "the American people are speaking loud and clear. When they have the information about how detrimental Obamacare is to them and their families, they want to stop it in its tracks."
Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, did not dispute that the question, and its results, could be useful in helping craft an attractive political message. But he cautioned against concluding that voters would side with Republicans in any government shutdown that occurs because of a disagreement over Obamacare funding.
"This kind of question might be effective in helping the parties with messaging during the August recess. But the question also over-simplifies a very complicated, and hypothetical, situation. I'd be careful about predicting a broad national reaction based on one poll question," Gonzales said.