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Most Americans Call Shutdown 'Embarrassing' As It's Set To Become Longest In History

IRS employee Pam Crosbie and others hold signs protesting the government shutdown at a federal building in Ogden, Utah.
Natalie Behring
Getty Images
IRS employee Pam Crosbie and others hold signs protesting the government shutdown at a federal building in Ogden, Utah.

Updated at 3:55 p.m. ET

Three-quarters of Americans say the government shutdown, now tied for the longest in U.S. history, is "embarrassing for the country," including a majority of Republicans, a new NPR/Ipsos Pollfinds.

If no deal is struck by midnight Friday, this partial shutdown will be the longest ever. From late 1995 to early 1996, the government was shut down for 21 days. Friday is the 21st day of this current shutdown. Neither side appears ready to budge, and this poll and others make Democrats feel they have the upper hand.

And they have reason to feel that way — about 7 in 10 in the NPR/Ipsos Poll also say the government shutdown is going to hurt the country, that it will hurt the economy and that Congress should pass a bill to reopen the government now while budget talks continue. Just 3 in 10 believe the government should remain closed until there is funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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A Reuters/Ipsos Poll out Tuesday found that 51 percent of Americans said President Trump "deserves most of the blame," up 4 points from late December 2018 around when the shutdown began. A YouGov Poll out this week found 50 percent also blamed Trump, also up 4 points from late December.

The NPR/Ipsos Poll also found that Trump's Oval Office address Tuesday had little effect. Just 10 percent of Americans said the president's speech brought the country closer to ending the government shutdown. (Nearly 4 in 10 said they did not watch or even follow the address.)

And not many, if anyone, beyond his base say his speech convinced them that there is a "crisis" at the Southern U.S. border. Just 38 percent of Americans overall said his speech convinced them of a crisis at the border, and only about a third said his speech convinced them there is a need for a wall along the border.

Independents are not with the president on either of those critical points. By a 23-point margin, 50 percent to 27 percent, independents said they disagreed that the president's speech convinced them of a need for a wall, and by 45 percent to 32 percent, independents said the president's speech did not convince them of a crisis at the border. Fifty-three percent of independents said it's never OK to shut down the government, as did 50 percent of Democrats. Just 25 percent of Republicans, though, said the same.

People gather on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier in Tijuana at the Pacific Ocean Thursday.
Mario Tama / Getty Images
Getty Images
People gather on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier in Tijuana at the Pacific Ocean Thursday.

About two-thirds of Republicans said the president's speech helped convince them there's a crisis at the border and a need for a wall.

As Trump looks toward re-election, his base has been solidly behind him. Immigration and the wall have been animating issues that have helped galvanize that support. Democrats, though, believe that while the president may have run and won, in part, on his hard-line immigration stance, it was also litigated during the 2018 midterm elections — when Democrats took back the House.

One reason the shutdown could drag on is that few people say they are directly affected by the shutdown:

  • Just 10 percent say they or someone in their immediate family was furloughed without pay or are a federal employee or contractor currently working without pay.
  • Just 15 percent say they have been unable to access government services because of the shutdown.
  • Just 11 percent say they have been unable to visit a national park or public facility because of the shutdown.
  • Sixty-five percent said they and their families have not been affected.
  • But that doesn't mean Americans aren't sympathetic to federal workers — 56 percent don't think federal workers should be working without pay to keep government services running, and 83 percent think they should get back pay for the time they do work. Two-thirds even think federal contractors should get back pay. (Trump said on Friday that he would sign a bill passed by Congress to give back pay to federal workers once the shutdown ends.)

    What's more, when asked what they think about the shutdown, the most prevalent answers were that it was unfair for workers, that it was wrong and that too many were working without pay.

    Not helping matters for either side is that the leaders in this showdown are not viewed favorably:

  • President Trump: 42 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable
  • Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: 39 percent favorable, 41 percent unfavorable (20 percent don't know)
  • Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: 27 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable (33 percent don't know)

  • The survey was conducted by Ipsos Jan. 9-10 with interviews of 1,003 adults online. It has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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    Domenico Montanaro
    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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