Americans Really Want the GOP to Knock It Off

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If the public is unhappy with anything, it's the crisis-driven governing of the last two years. Between the debt ceiling stand-off—when House Republicans threatened to sink the economy if they didn't get spending cuts—and the recent fiscal cliff battle—where, again, Republicans threatened economic disaster if they didn't get spending cuts—the United States has lurched from fight to fight, crisis to crisis, in an ongoing game of domestic brinksmanship.

This strategy might appeal to the Republican base—which has no interest in the Obama agenda—but it's been a nonstarter with the broader public, which just wants government to function. Indeed, GOP intransigence is almost certainly the reason for its dismal ratings in the latest poll from USA Today and the Pew Research Center. Republican leaders, for example, receive a 25 percent approval rating from the public, with a sharp divide between Democrats and independents (who give them a 22 percent and 15 percent rating, respectively) and Republicans, who give them 47 percent approval. Democrats don't have good ratings—only 37 percent approve of their performance—but it's a big improvement over their counterparts.

As for Obama, the public trusts him on most issues of consequences. Forty-five percent of respondents say he has a better approach on gun policies and the budget deficit (compared to 39 and 38 percent for Republicans), while 50 percent trust his approach immigration, and 47 percent trust it on climate change. They aren't so sure about his handling of the economy—56 disapproval versus 40 percent approval—but he still maintains an overall approval rating of 51 percent.

As for deficit reduction and the sequester, Obama holds the clear upper-hand in terms of public opinion. Seventy-six percent of Americans—including 56 percent of Republicans—say they support a "balanced" approach of spending cuts and tax increases. If a deal isn't reached, 49 percent of respondents say they would blame the GOP, as opposed to 31 percent who would place the blame on Obama, and 11 percent who would spread it equally.

In a world where Republicans were working with Obama—or at least, proposing workable alternatives to Obama's policies—I doubt they would face such low ratings from the public. As it stands, Americans (correctly) see the GOP as the main problem with Congress. It's possible that this won't matter, and Republicans will come back to win seats in 2014, thus expanding their majority in the House and making gains in the Senate. But the GOP's standing is crumbling, and I have a hard time believing that—after another year of gridlock and hostage taking—the public would respond by electing more Republicans.

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