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43% of Americans would shut down government to block Iran deal

Contentious nuclear pact deemed a better reason for holding the government hostage than repealing Obamacare, poll finds

Supporters react to a speech by Republican presidential candidate former New York Gov. George Pataki at the 'Stop Iran' protest Wednesday, July 22, 2015, near Times Square in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Supporters react to a speech by Republican presidential candidate former New York Gov. George Pataki at the 'Stop Iran' protest Wednesday, July 22, 2015, near Times Square in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Some four in 10 Americans would have supported Republicans holding Washington hostage to prevent the Iran nuclear deal, a new survey found, though many oppose using a federal shutdown to force through other GOP goals.

Support for a shutdown over the nuclear deal, at 43 percent, was second only to the 56% backing for using the threat to force spending cuts.

The Associated Press-GfK survey (PDF) was conducted in mid-October, after Congress failed to derail the Iran deal. While 74% of Republicans polled supported a shutdown over spending, GOP leaders have shied away from holding the government hostage to obtain policy victories.

The poll, taken before the agreement to avert a shutdown was announced, showed less overall support for forcing a shutdown over two other key GOP goals — halting federal payments to Planned Parenthood (26%), and repealing Obama’s health care overhaul (36%). That public reluctance, plus a lack of votes to override Obama vetoes, helped handcuff Republicans from pursuing combative budget showdowns with the president.

The poll also found 73% of Republicans said they think lawmakers should extend the government’s authority to borrow to pay bills only if Obama accepts substantial spending cuts.

Failure to extend the government’s ability to borrow money by early November could spark a destabilizing, first-ever federal default. A partial government shutdown, which the agreement would avert, would begin if lawmakers don’t approve money by December 11 to keep agencies running.

With next year’s presidential and congressional elections creeping closer, Republican leaders want to avoid a headline-grabbing shutdown or lapse of federal borrowing authority for fear of labeling their party as unable to govern and alienating voters.

However, the AP-GfK poll highlights that many GOP voters prefer a more aggressive stance, mirroring the complaints of the House Freedom Caucus and other hardline conservatives in Congress who helped force the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner.

Among that conservative Tea Party group, support for a shutdown over Planned Parenthood, the health care law, the Iran deal and cutting federal spending ran between 60 percent and 90 percent.

“There are consequences for shutting down the government, it affects people in an immediate sense, like their jobs,” said Serena Keiler, 38, a Democrat who works for an entertainment company in Los Angeles, California, and opposes a shutdown. “It’s really an uncreative way of working toward a solution.”

The survey came as Congress nears votes on a bipartisan deal that could yield two years of budget peace.

Top congressional Republicans and top Democrats were urging rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties on Tuesday to support a pact, completed hours earlier, aimed at boosting the debt limit and financing federal agencies for the next two years. A House vote could come as early as Wednesday.

Fifty-eight percent of Democrats surveyed said Congress should increase the debt limit first and negotiate separately over spending. A surprisingly significant minority of Democrats, 44 percent, were willing to close government to force spending cuts.

People overall backed conditioning a higher debt limit on spending cuts by 50 percent to 35 percent. Another 11 percent opposed boosting the ceiling under any circumstances.

Since winning control of the House in 2011, Republicans have frequently insisted on spending cuts as the trade-off for boosting the borrowing ceiling. But that year is the last time they won those demands in a debt limit showdown with Obama.

Roughly half of independents supported linking spending cuts to both a debt ceiling increase and to keeping the government open.

The survey highlights public indecision over extending the debt ceiling, which lets the government borrow money to pay costs that it has already incurred. By a small margin, more people oppose than support raising the limit while the bulk — more than 4 in 10 — are neutral.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online October 15 to 19. The sample was drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel without Internet access were provided it for free.

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