Democrats Have Upper Hand in Potential Shutdown Fight

April 17, 2017


TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Guy Cecil, Chairman, Priorities USA
DATE: April 17, 2017
RE: Democrats Have Upper Hand in Potential Shutdown Fight


When Congress returns from its current, two-week recess, it will have just five days to finalize a funding resolution to prevent a government shutdown. A deal on the measure has been slow to emerge, with Democrats resisting a number of Republican demands, including a provision that would defund Planned Parenthood as well as a Trump administration request to dedicate funds to begin construction on a border wall.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that Democrats lacked leverage in these negotiations because, he said, they would not want to be “acquire the shutdown label.” McConnell speculated that since Congress has traditionally faced the backlash during previous shutdowns, Democrats, rather than Trump, should have the most to fear about the public’s response to a potential standoff later this month.

But McConnell is wrong. A survey of more than 1200 voters, conducted March 31-April 2 by Civis Analytics on behalf of Priorities USA, shows that the Republicans’ political position in these negotiations starts off far more tenuous than that of Democrats.

Furthermore, Trump’s standing with the electorate remains extraordinarily weak. A separate survey – conducted by Global Strategy Group and Garin-Hart-Yang Research for Priorities USA from April 6-11 – finds that Trump did not get any bump post-Syria. Trump’s job performance is net negative (42% approve/50% disapprove), with half the electorate disapproving of Trump’s job performance. Voters also indicate that the things they have seen, read, and heard in recent weeks have given them less favorable (47%) rather than more favorable (33%) impressions of the President. In particular, voters’ dissatisfaction over the healthcare debacle has not diminished and will continue to present real problems for Trump moving forward.

Voters would blame Republicans if the government shuts down

When pushed about whose fault it would be if Congress fails to pass a funding resolution to keep the government open, 64% percent of voters blame Republicans (either President Trump, Republicans in Congress, the Freedom Caucus, or Speaker Ryan) compared to just 33% percent who would blame Democrats.

Once these voters are told about the potential sticking points in the negotiations that could lead to a shutdown, they become even more likely to blame Trump or congressional Republicans. For instance, when told that a shutdown could arise over a Republican-sought provision to defund Planned Parenthood, the share of voters who say they would blame either Trump or congressional Republicans versus Democrats increased by three percentage points to 67%. When told that Democrats may oppose a continuing resolution because it funds a border wall while cutting funds to support the National Institute of Health, the share of voters who say they’d blame Trump or Republicans for a government shutdown jumps to 68% percent.

None of the potential sticking points we tested caused voters to believe Democrats would deserve blame more than Trump or Republicans.

The majority of voters oppose passage of Trump Administration’s budget

These findings make sense in light of how opposed voters are to Trump’s proposed spending cuts. In our survey, 42% of voters said they opposed passage of the Trump administration’s budget while just 23% supported it. The potential sticking points in the negotiations are also individually unpopular. An Associated Press survey this month showed that, by a 58-28% margin, Americans oppose using taxpayer funds to construct Trump’s border wall. Likewise, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in March showed 75 percent of Americans opposed the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Even after the military strike in Syria, 50% of voters disapprove of the job Trump is doing

Republicans’ negotiating position is not made any better by Trump’s shaky standing with the electorate. As mentioned above, half of all voters disapproves of his job performance despite the air strike in Syria that received a good deal of bipartisan support. Voters are also beginning to doubt Trump’s deal-making abilities. Voters have been hearing more unfavorable (46%) than favorable (25%) things about Trump’s ability to work with Congress.

Favoring the wealthy over regular Americans also continues to be a top concern. Voters continue to believe Trump mainly looks out for the wealthy and big corporations over the interests of regular people (52% looks out for the wealthy and big corporations/23% looks out for regular people).


All of this suggests that seeking to jam Trump’s pet provisions into the continuing resolution would make for a losing fight for congressional Republicans. Democrats seem to sense this, and are showing an increased readiness to draw a line over Trump’s demands on the government spending measure. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has, for instance, called the border wall money a “poison pill” in any bill to keep the government open.

And Republicans seem like they may be close to blinking. Recently, House Speaker Paul Ryan hinted that funds for Trump’s border wall would be better to provide through the normal appropriations process, not as part of the continuing resolution that must be enacted by April 28.

Democrats have reason to remain confident as the negotiations to avert a shutdown continue. The data shows they have the upper hand politically as they fight to ward off partisan provisions like money for the border wall. Avoiding a government shutdown should not require concessions on any of Trump’s controversial pet provisions.