One in five affected by shutdown

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol
Credit: Kevin McCoy

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – As the government shutdown enters its third week, New Jersey’s registered voters reflect the rest of the nation’s disapproval and assign blame to the Republican Party, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Just one quarter think congressional Republicans did the right thing by insisting to defund Obamacare. As a result, Republicans are suffering the brunt of the blame: more than half of Garden State voters say the shutdown is the GOP’s fault, while 19 percent blame President Obama. Only 5 percent blame on Democrats in Congress, although 20 percent say there is blame enough for everyone.

The shutdown has personally affected about one in five respondents, the poll finds. The biggest impact is on jobs – a quarter of those hurt say either they or a family member were furloughed, or their business has been affected. Also, many New Jerseyans are reporting problems accessing personal benefits or government-funded programs and that the shutdown has been exacting an emotional toll.

Despite the shutdown, Obama’s personal ratings remain unchanged since an early September poll and are still very positive. Fifty-nine percent of voters are favorably disposed toward him, while 34 percent are not and another 7 percent are unsure. Similarly, 50 percent of voters grade Obama’s job performance as B or higher. Conversely, feelings about the Tea Party are mostly negative; 21 percent of voters have a favorable impression, while 55 percent are unfavorable and 24 percent have no opinion. When the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll last asked about the Tea Party, in November 2011, the movement drew favorable ratings from 21 percent of respondents, but 48 percent were unfavorable.

“The federal government shutdown is not playing any better in New Jersey than elsewhere,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Those directly affected are very frustrated, and even those not seeing direct effects say the shutdown was the wrong way to go. While Obama’s ratings have not been affected, reactions to the Tea Party movement have become more negative.”

Results are from a poll of 799 registered New Jersey voters conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Oct. 7-13. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Shutdown directly affects many Garden Staters

Twenty-one percent of registered voters report they have noticed a difference in their personal lives because of the shutdown. Women, minority voters and those in lower income brackets have been especially impacted, as have those living in exurban areas and Philadelphia’s South Jersey suburbs. 

Asked to describe the personal effects of the partial shutdown, many offered economic examples, including that they or a family member was furloughed from a job or receiving less pay. Others report difficulties gaining access to personal benefits and government-funded programs, including challenges to getting information about social security, Medicare and food stamps.

Some voters say they have been emotionally affected and called themselves “worried,” “concerned,” “depressed” or “angry.” Respondents also worry over the shutdown’s effects on the stock market and economy, the closing of national parks and monuments, and the impact on personal finances and spending.

Opinions on shutdown are deeply partisan

While majorities of voters say the government should have been kept open and that Republicans are to blame for the shutdown, Democrats and Republicans hold starkly opposing views of the situation. Eighty-five percent of Democrats say the government should have been kept open without defunding Obamacare, while 7 percent say shutting the government down over Obamacare was the right thing to do. Republicans are more split. Fifty-eight percent say the shutdown was the proper course of action but a significant 34 percent say the government should have been kept open. 

Independents lean much closer to Democrats on the shutdown. Just 25 percent support shutting down the government over Obamacare defunding, but 66 percent believe this was the wrong thing to do. As for the Tea Party, only 21 percent of all voters and 42 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of the movement. Supporters reflect overall Republican preferences, with 56 percent favoring the shutdown move and 35 percent opposing it.

“New Jersey’s Tea Party supporters do not favor the shutdown over defunding Obamacare any more than other Republicans,” noted Redlawsk. “This is partly because many Republicans feel favorably toward the Tea Party and partly because one in six Tea Party supporters has personally felt the shutdown’s impact. Personal impact can make a difference in attitudes.”

Blame for the shutdown follows similar patterns. Large majorities of Democrats, Obama supporters, and those personally affected by the shutdown, blame Republicans in Congress. Conversely, Republican voters, Tea Party supporters and shutdown advocates all blame the president in large numbers.

Nearly half (46 percent) of Republicans blame Obama, while 14 percent say their own party is to blame. But 87 percent of Democrats put the blame squarely on congressional Republicans. Independent voters see Republicans to blame by a 2-to-1 margin over Obama.

“The fact that independents are far more likely to blame Republicans than Obama or Democrats in Congress is one indicator of the harm this is doing to the Republican brand,” said Redlawsk. “But Democrats do not get off free – more than a third of independents say everyone is to blame.”

Voters’ preferences for U.S. Senate in today’s special election likewise reflects opinions on the shutdown: 87 percent of Cory Booker voters disagree with it, while 63 percent of Steve Lonegan voters say the shutdown was the right thing to do. Gender and racial gaps also exist, with women and minority voters much less likely to believe the shutdown was proper.

Three-quarters of Booker voters place blame for the standoff on the GOP, but six in 10 Lonegan voters blame Obama or the Democrats. While there is no gender gap in placing blame, minority voters are 22-points more likely to blame Republicans than white voters.

EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, Professor David Redlawsk may be contacted at 319-400-1134, 732-932-9384, ext. 285, or Visit for additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Facebook at and Twitter @EagletonPoll.