Would a Government Shutdown Really Be All That Bad for Republicans? Yes

John Boehner looks over the shoulder of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich at a 1998 press conference. John Boehner looks over the shoulder of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich at a 1998 press conference. Leslie Kossoff/AP File Photo

Go ahead, shut it down! That's the new cheer from the conservatives pushing to defund Obamacare. To their lily-livered compatriots who worry that the Senate will reject the defunding gambit, resulting in a shutdown when the federal government runs out of money at the end of this month, they claim that wouldn't actually be so bad: Americans, they say, would cheer the Republicans for sticking to their principles and opposing the unpopular health-care legislation.

It's a case increasingly being made by activists on the right, who cite polling data and a revisionist view of the 1995 government shutdown. But under close scrutiny, the claims don't hold up.

The contention that Americans would cheer a shutdown rests on a newRasmussen Reports poll that supposedly shows a majority of Americans favor shutting down the government to defund Obamacare. It was emailed to me by a conservative activist, Scott Hogenson, who wrote, "RE: Obamacare and the prospect of a government shutdown. Seems a majority of Americans would be okay with that."

Rasmussen isn’t a very reliable pollster -- in last year’s presidential election, the company’s polls consistently overestimated Mitt Romney’s chances. But leaving that aside, the poll doesn’t quite show that the public wants defund or nothing. The pollster asked, “Would you rather have Congress avoid a government shutdown by authorizing spending for the health care law at existing levels or would you rather have a partial government shutdown until Democrats and Republicans agree on what spending for that law to cut?,” and 51 percent picked the second option, which suggests a partial trimming of health-care spending. Another recent poll by a respected Republican pollster found that a large majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, oppose “shutting down the government as a way to defund the president’s health care law.”

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