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History Suggests Shutdown Stakes May Not Be That High

History Suggests Shutdown Stakes May Not Be That High

by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the federal government prepares to shut down for the first time since 1995/1996, historical Gallup data reveal that the repercussions of that past conflict ranged from none to short-lived, in terms of Americans' concerns about the U.S. and the political players involved. The 1995/1996 closure, which occurred when -- just like today -- Republican leaders in Congress and a Democratic president failed to agree on the budget, did little to impact Americans' views of President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Congress itself, the U.S. economy, and the country in general in the months after the shutdown began.

Americans' Views of Key Issues/People Surrounding the 1995/1996 Gov't Shutdown

Before the U.S. government shutdown on Nov. 14, 1995, President Clinton's job approval stood at 52%. It dipped to 42% in an early January Gallup survey, but bounced back up to 52% by mid-March. His favorable rating took even less of a hit, falling just five percentage points to 54% in mid-January 1996 -- after the second shutdown ended -- from 59% in early November. And, his favorability climbed back up to 58% in mid-March 1996.

Americans' views of the U.S. speaker of the House at the time, Newt Gingrich, are a bit more complicated. While Gingrich's job approval suffered some in the short term, his favorability rating actually ticked up slightly just after the shutdown ended. But by February and March of 1996, Americans' views of Gingrich were right back to where they were prior to the budget battle -- relatively low -- and stayed that way.

Similarly, Americans' satisfaction with the way things were going in the United States dropped slightly at the end of the government shutdown, but by March improved to higher than it was before the closure. And, their views of the U.S. economy were mostly stable before, during, and after the 1995/1996 government shutdown.

One thing, though, that is likely to change, at least in the short term, is Americans' perceptions of the most important problem facing the nation. The budget rose to the top of Americans' most important problem list in January 1996, overtaking crime, which had been the No. 1 problem throughout 1994 and 1995 and returned to the top of the list by May 1996, after the budget issues subsided.


The partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government -- the first one in 17 years -- took effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, because the Republican leaders in Congress and President Barack Obama have failed to agree on a budget to keep the government funded. Gallup's historical data surrounding a similar 1995/1996 government shutdown reveal that the current battle may have little impact on Americans' views of today's political leaders -- at least through the next several months.

Additionally, Americans already view Congress itself -- and the Republicans and Democrats who are part of it -- very poorly, meaning there is not much room for their perceptions of the legislative branch to worsen further.

President Obama may have more to lose, in a way. His approval rating has been somewhere in the 40% range throughout September and was 44% on Monday, according to Gallup Daily tracking conducted Sept. 27-29. But Americans are slightly more likely to see President Obama as acting more responsibly than the Republican leaders in Congress in handling the budget negotiations. Thus, Obama -- like Clinton -- may end up unscathed after the shutdown ends.

Speaker of the House John Boehner is in a potentially more precarious position. His favorable rating slid down to 31% in April, the last time Gallup asked about him. And Boehner is facing pressure not only from the left, but also from his own party on the right -- to not give in on addressing the healthcare law.

Beyond the politicians though, Americans' confidence in the economy is already floundering and their satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. remains in the low-20% range. If history is a guide, it is possible that their views of the situation in the country may worsen in the short term, which for an economy -- and job market -- still in recovery, is troublesome. But, long term, it is unclear whether a possibly short-lived government shutdown will ultimately negatively impact the economic situation in the U.S.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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