Skip to main content

The startling CNN poll on the shutdown

By Newt Gingrich
October 8, 2013 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT