Democrats are increasingly confident they are winning the battle for public opinion regarding who is to blame for the partial government shutdown.
One important piece of evidence, they say, is a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows Democrats leading Republicans on a generic ballot. When voters were asked their preference for a Democrat or a Republican as their congressional representative, with no candidates' names listed, the generic Democrat won by 9 percentage points, 43 percent to 34 percent.
Democratic strategists say this advantage could be enough, if it continues, to vault the Democrats into the House majority and push the Republicans out of power in the 2014 mid-term elections. The poll shows that Americans disapprove of the job congressional Republicans are doing by 74 percent to 17 percent. They disapprove of the job congressional Democrats are doing but by a lesser margin, by 60 to 32.
The poll was conducted through Saturday, before the government shutdown began Tuesday morning, but Democrats say the debate had already been framed by that time.
"The polls overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly blame the Republicans," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. She told Politico that Americans "know the Republicans don't like government. They know the right wing has taken over their party. And the history they know is Republicans blocked Social Security, Medicare and now the Affordable Care Act."
Of course, the 2014 elections are a long way off, and it's far from certain how the PR battle over the shutdown and health care will turn out over the long run. But Democratic strategists are also heartened because President Obama is using the full power of his bully pulpit to hammer the GOP and shape the debate in the Democrats' favor, and no other politician can match the president's ability to gain media and public attention.
Obama has begun calling the current funding hiatus a "Republican shutdown." He vigorously defended his health care law Tuesday at a Rose Garden event attended by a group of people who have no health insurance and say they would benefit from the new law, known as Obamacare.
"This shutdown is not about deficits," Obama said. "It's not about budgets. This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don't have it. This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican party stands for these days. I know it's strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda, but that apparently is what it is."
Obama plans to go on the road to campaign against the GOP Thursday.
White House advisers point out that polls show most voters oppose the House GOP strategy of refusing to fund the government unless Obama's health care law is defunded, delayed or otherwise undermined. Republicans consider the Affordable Care Act harmful to the economy and an unwise increase in the power of the federal government. Americans are split on the law, but GOP legislators have such low standing with the voters that their arguments don't seem to be working as they make the case for defunding Obamacare.
Obama is holding firm against making concessions in any negotiation with the Republicans. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, "Well, if they get what they want in order to reopen the government or not default for a few months or a few weeks, next they'll say, 'OK, undo the increase in tax rates for the wealthiest of Americans, for millionaires and billionaires.' That could be next."
So Obama advisers and Democratic strategists seem willing to let the shutdown continue until the GOP gives in. They are gambling that the public will turn increasingly against the Republicans as obstructionist, inflexible and overly ideological.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.