Skip to main content

The startling CNN poll on the shutdown

By Newt Gingrich
updated 11:59 AM EDT, Tue October 8, 2013
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: In shutdowns of 1990s, GOP was blamed much more than Democrats
  • He says a new CNN poll shows that most people also blame Democrats this time
  • Gingrich says President Obama's refusal to negotiate is hurting his image
  • He says GOP strategy is winning

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-cost of CNN's new "Crossfire," which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays. A former speaker of the House, he was a candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

(CNN) -- Monday's CNN poll results just plain surprised, almost shocked me.

When I saw the poll was due to be released, I expected the Republicans to be taking a beating considering the terms President Barack Obama and his staff have been using to describe them over the past 10 days ("extremists," "people with a bomb strapped to their chest") and the unfair, derogatory press coverage of their position.

The results are so dramatically better for Republicans and worse for the Democrats and Obama than I expected that I was curious to see just how much better Republicans are faring during the shutdown of 2013 (and how much worse the president and the Democrats are faring) than in comparable polls of the 1995-96 shutdowns.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

What I discovered was revealing and runs against the entire media narrative of this year's struggle over the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling.

Let's start with the shutdowns during the Clinton administration when I was leading House Republicans. There were two: one in November 1995 and one in December '95 and early January 1996.

A CNN poll at the time showed Americans blamed Republicans over President Bill Clinton for the first shutdown by almost 2-to-1, 49% to 26%.

Republicans fared only a little better in the second shutdown of the mid-'90s. A CNN poll after it began showed the American people preferred Clinton's approach to that of the Republicans by 52% to 38%.

Boehner: Country is on 'dangerous path'
Obama: Won't 'negotiate' under threat
Gingrich: Obama should negotiate
Reich: Gingrich, my friend, you're wrong

Sixty-two percent said they had negative feelings about the Republican leaders during that conflict, compared with only 49% about Clinton.

This is not to say the shutdowns were a strategic mistake. Quite the opposite: The enormous progress we made afterward -- four consecutive balanced budgets, welfare reform, the first tax cut in 16 years -- was a direct result of Republicans standing firm in 1995 and early 1996. It proved to Clinton, and more importantly to the country, that we were serious about the ideas we had run on in 1994. As a consequence, we were the first re-elected Republican majority in the House since 1928.

In the long run, in other words, the shutdowns didn't do us any damage, a fact Gallup documented recently.

But as the above poll numbers suggest, most Americans were clearly frustrated during those shutdowns, and in the immediate term they blamed Republicans. In retrospect I brought some of this on us because I was very firm and clear beforehand that we were prepared to close the government if that was what it took to get an agreement to balance the federal budget.

In a sense, Americans were right to blame (or credit) us with the shutdowns because we were in fact on offense, seeking a decisive change in government. As the first House Republican majority in 40 years, we were feeling empowered, and we probably showed it too clearly.

There was another big reason why the public gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt, however. He was consistently willing to talk and to meet. People saw him as a reasonable guy trying to help get to a solution. And since Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, the congressional Democrats were not a big part of the public drama.

Because we were so openly pushing for a big change and Clinton was so willing to be reasonable, the American people naturally attributed the shutdowns to us and gave Clinton good marks for at least trying to negotiate.

Today the situation is radically different.

Virtually every Republican has learned from 1995-1996. Republicans' consistent refrain is that they don't want to shut the government. They constantly say that they want to negotiate, to make a deal, and that they're frustrated by Obama's refusal to talk.

The president, on the other hand, has taken the hard-line position that he will not negotiate, repeating this on television practically every day. In addition, he has used his office to cause as much pain to the people as he reasonably can, including very public and unnecessary pain for our soldiers, veterans and small business owners.

This behavior strikes most Americans as offensive and unfair.

I thought, however, that with the general bias of the press coverage -- the overemphasis on Republican dissent, the almost complete avoidance of covering Democrats who have split with their leaders to vote in favor of clean, piecemeal continuing resolutions to fund parts of the government, and the normal process of giving Obama a permanent benefit of the doubt -- that Monday's poll results would have been better than 1995-96 but still clearly anti-Republican.

The results were vastly better for the Republicans and worse for Obama than I expected.

When asked in the CNN poll whom they are angry at, 63% said Republicans, 58% said Democrats and 53% said Obama. That is a 10-point margin for the president and only a 5-point margin for Democrats, compared with a 23-point margin in November 1995.

Independents said they blamed all three equally (60% GOP, 59% Democrats, 58% Obama). This is so clearly within the margin of error that it is for all practical purposes a tie.

After weeks of the media focusing blame on House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Ted Cruz and the House Republicans, it is clear the American people are not buying it.

There have been too many days of the president saying, "I will not negotiate."

The country believes him. They can see he's a big part of the reason the government is shut down.

If House Republicans continue to pass targeted, clean continuing resolutions to fund parts of the government and Senate Republicans demand day after day for the right to vote on these popular measures, the margin of blame may begin shifting from virtual parity to a solidly Democratic problem.

If the Republicans repeat every day their willingness to negotiate and Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeat every day their refusal to negotiate, this may become catastrophic for the Democrats.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Newt Gingrich.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT