Now and then: government shutdown

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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With the government possibly about to shut down and Newt Gingrich back on the national stage, it feels a little like we’re back in the nineties, though the sweet sounds of Boyz II Men are no longer playing on the radio to comfort us through the long cold nights. Looking at the polls from then and now, some of the numbers are similar. But the context has changed, and President Obama seems likely to fare less well than Bill Clinton did fifteen years ago.

In 1995, the week before the government shutdown on November 14, President Bill Clinton had a 52 percent approval rating. By the time the shutdown ended on January 6, he had dipped to 42 percent, but it was a transient affair, and two weeks later his number was back at 52.

Obama, on the other hand, would head into a government shutdown with lower numbers — his approval rating stands at 45 percent according to a Gallup poll released Thursday.

The public’s level of cynicism has not changed in fifteen years.

Right before the 1995 shutdown, only 45 percent of respondents said that they felt Clinton was honestly trying to resolve the issue, while 52 percent said he was playing politics, numbers which only went up as the crisis continued. Even more felt Republicans were putting on a show.

The numbers polled this week are virtually identical. 51 percent called Obama’s efforts entirely political and insincere; two-thirds said the same of Republicans.

But Obama is a president who has worked hard to portray himself as above the political fray, a perception that the public does not appear to have bought into. Moreover, Clinton had the Republicans as a foil, and a majority of the public blamed the Republicans going into the strike, a perception which remained after it ended.

Polling this week, on the other hand, shows the public almost evenly split on whether President Obama and his administration or the Republicans in Congress are the parties at fault.