But nevertheless, and in the face of six recent years of GOP control over both the White House and Congress, Republicans have won the budget perception battle, and soundly. A poll released last week by Democracy Corps, a group of prominent liberal pollsters including Stan Greenberg and James Carville, found that independent voters are "still hesitant to trust Democrats on spending."
Meanwhile the debate in Washington has focused almost entirely on spending cuts, even though polls show that voters are more concerned about jobs and the economy than the budget and the deficit—and even though most economists agree that the GOP's proposed spending cuts would set back the recovery.
But the clearest example of the GOP having the Democrats on the run can be found in the current negotiations aimed at averting a government shutdown in a week. House Republican leaders originally wanted $32 billion in spending cuts for this year; that figure prompted a conservative backlash that ended with the House passing $61 billion in cuts. Now, according to press reports, negotiators have settled on $33 billion in cuts. In other words, the GOP, which controls one of three players in this negotiation, has already achieved its original budgetary goal. In this regard, House Speaker John Boehner seems to have (intentionally or not) used his Tea Party wing as a perfect foil to pull the debate to the right.
But judging by last Thursday's Tea Party demonstration on the Hill—aimed at the GOP, mind you—conservatives don't seem capable of banking their win and moving on to the next fight. They see anything less than total victory as an abject surrender.
And in that sense reality is about to intrude upon their budgetary-political fantasy land. The reality is that while voters like spending cuts in the abstract, polls show they object to the particulars of the GOP agenda. That reality is already taking hold at the state level where, Politico reported last week, the wave of newly elected governors trying to get tough on budgets have seen their approval ratings collapse.
And the experience of state governments also provides an insight into the possible winners and losers in a government shutdown. A pair of political scientists published a paper last year looking at the effects of such budgetary breakdowns (167 of them since 1988) at the state level, reports the Washington Post's Ezra Klein. The study found that voters tend to punish legislators while rewarding the executive. So a shutdown would benefit President Obama while hurting lawmakers in both parties.
So if members of Congress let the government shut down on Friday, they will be the real April fools.