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Mentzer: At some point, voters do seem to say, 'You've gone too far' (column)

5:30 PM, Oct. 18, 2013  |  Comments
Washington's budget battle and government shutdown gave China's Communist Party an opening to criticize and undermine U.S. democracy to its citizens.
Washington's budget battle and government shutdown gave China's Communist Party an opening to criticize and undermine U.S. democracy to its citizens.
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We made it through the shutdown. The U.S. did not default. The republic survives. I don't think anyone feels that it was quite American democracy's finest hour, but, well, here we are.

There was a lot of polling on this and what it said was that Americans hated the government shutdown, and most people - 70 percent in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll - blamed Republicans for it. There are a lot of things you can't measure with a poll; one of them is how people will answer the same question in a month or six months or a year. But one of the things a poll is good for is getting a general sense of people's perceptions, and objectively this is what the polls say: Americans hated the government shutdown and most people blamed Republicans for it.

Americans also don't like Obamacare. For years now there has been a slim or slimmish majority of people who oppose the health care reform law, and more recently that opposition opened up significantly. So you might have thought - this was the explicit argument of some conservatives as the shutdown loomed - that people would appreciate the fact that Republicans were willing to stand and fight against this law that a majority of people don't like.

Nope. In fact, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week found support for the law went up during the shutdown.

You can like it or not. You can think the public is misguided about its views in opposing Obamacare or its views in blaming Republicans for the shutdown. (I am guessing many readers will disagree with the public on one or the other of those views.) And for what it's worth, it seems highly questionable that any of this shutdown stuff is likely to have much effect on 2014 elections. But right now, today, this is the data we have.

Here's what this reminds me of: Wisconsin's recall of Gov. Scott Walker.

At first the polls on the recall showed pretty close to 50 percent of the state opposed to Walker. But the recall did not turn out to be all that close - Walker won 53-46 - and a not-trivial chunk of people told polling organizations that even if they did not really support Walker, they also didn't like recall elections as a matter of principle. It was outside of the regular order of politics and that did not seem right to some people.

I am not sure, but I wonder if something a bit similar was at work in people's reaction to the government shutdown. Maybe people just have a sort of innate sense of prudence that reacts against a certain type of ultra-hardball, outside-the-regular-order style of politics. (I've heard it argued that part of what has made Obamacare unpopular is that it was pushed through in strictly partisan votes, so it's possible some of the same thing is at work there.) If so, that would be a fairly conservative impulse, in the small-c, Burkean sense.

My theory might be wrong - by all means, write me and tell me how wrong I am - but I like the idea that, however inconsistent or even incoherent their views might be, on some level voters do have a sense of when their political leaders, even those whose principles they might agree with, have pushed things too far.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
15%
573 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
23%
853 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
27%
1011 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
34%
1268 votes

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