In the Event of a Shutdown, Who Wins?

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Aside from anarchists, Russia, China, and other sundry enemies of/competitors with the U.S. federal government, there will have to be a winner--a major U.S. political party--if the federal government shuts down amid a spending stalemate between Republicans and Democrats.

Who will it be?

Let's go to the tape.

The public doesn't prefer either side's approach to spending, according to a CNN poll released Monday: 45 percent prefer President Obama's "approach" to "cutting programs to reduce the budget deficit and still maintaining needed federal programs," while 46 percent prefer the Republicans'.

So, in the public's interpretation of their policies, Republicans and Democrats enjoy equal support.

It seems people think a shutdown should be avoided but won't be too concerned if it happens. Seventy-seven percent told Bloomberg on March 9 that they think a shutdown should be avoided, but a March 2 Quinnipiac University poll showed a majority (46 percent to 44 percent) supporting a shutdown of nonessential government work if it stopped the government going further into debt. (Quinnipiac's question was off--it asked about a shutdown caused by failure to raise the debt ceiling, not failure to keep funding the government, but the broad point remains that if high deficits are at stake, the public can stomach a shutdown.)

It's questionable, then, whether we should be talking about blame or credit.

The public would blame Republicans more than they would blame President Obama (47 percent to 38 percent), according to Quinnipiac. At the same time, respondents told Bloomberg that Republicans would politically benefit more than Democrats (45 percent to 34 percent) in the event of a shutdown.

Members of each political party, naturally, see things differently. A majority of Republicans (63 percent) say a shutdown would be good, according to Quinnipiac, while a statistically equal quotient of Democrats feel the opposite way. Independents narrowly favored a shutdown in the same poll (47 percent to 42 percent).

The short, boring answer seems to be: It will depend on which side communicates its policy position better, and what opinion the public forms of a shutdown once it actually happens.

For now, we can safely assume this calculus: A solid contingent of the GOP base will be fired up, encouraged by its leadership's fortitude in negotiating for less spending. Most Democrats, on the other hand, will blame Republicans and view a shutdown negatively. Independents will split. The public's competing desires for less spending, on the one hand, and the continuation of programs and benefits, on the other, will be put to the test.

At this point, it might be too close to call.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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