Why do the country’s politicians seem incapable of finding a compromise to reopen the federal government? Here’s an idea from recent polls.
Overall, 58% of Americans oppose expanding the wall along the border of Mexico, while 40% favor it. Among those who favor the wall, 72% said it would be unacceptable to pass a bill that doesn’t include funding for the wall if it ends the shutdown and 27% said that would be OK to do that, according to a Pew Research Center poll out last week.
On the other side, among those opposed to the wall, 88% said it’s not acceptable to pass a bill that includes funding and 11% said it’s acceptable. Only a small number on either side agreed it would be OK to pass a bill that has something they don’t want or doesn’t have something they do.
Compare that intransigence to the desire for compromise in an NPR/PBS/Marist poll from last week, when 63% said they like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with. Only 31% preferred an elected official who stuck to their positions. Democrats were slightly more likely to want an official who makes compromises (70%), but a majority of Republicans (58%), and independents still agreed (66%).
Pew Research has asked whether respondents wanted their side to compromise on specific policies during past budget debates with similar results, but not with the same intensity.
In September 2015, a government shutdown was narrowly avoided when a bill was passed after House Speaker John Boehner announced he would step down and allow funding for Planned Parenthood. Around a third supported a budget agreement that eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood while 60% wanted to maintain funding.
Among those who supported keeping Planned Parenthood, the majority, around two-thirds, said it was unacceptable to pass anything that cut Planned Parenthood. A third of Planned Parenthood supporters said they would be OK with a budget that didn’t include funding for it. On the other side, among those who wanted to eliminate all funding for Planned Parenthood, the numbers were the same, with two-thirds who wouldn’t budge and a third who were open to other avenues.
During the third-longest shutdown in US history in October 2013, health care was the key issue. Back then, Americans were evenly divided on whether then-President Barack Obama should agree to a bill that cuts or delays the health care law (42%) or if Republican leaders should agree to a bill without any cuts or delays (44%). Again, around two-thirds on both sides said it would be unacceptable to proceed with the option that they didn’t want. That shutdown was eventually resolved when Republicans gave in and allowed a spending bill to pass with some increase in verifications for health care access.
In both the 2013 shutdown and the close call in 2015, the side that ended up getting the blame in public eyes was the side that eventually gave in. So compromise was not rewarded in either of those cases. In 2013, six polls found the majority of Americans held the Republicans in Congress responsible for the partial government shutdown. There were fewer polls in 2015, but two of the three still found Republicans receiving the blame for the lack of compromise.