Why Democrats may be making the wrong bet on the shutdown

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Although Democrats appear to have the backing of their base in their fight to extend the program allowing some people brought to the US illegally as children to stay, there are some warning signs that going to the carpet to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals may be the wrong move for the minority party, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

A plurality of Americans said they would blame either President Donald Trump or Republicans in Congress for a shutdown, while fewer say they would blame congressional Democrats. (Eight in 10 Americans who would blame Democrats are either Republicans or GOP-leaning independents.) Still, the poll offers several red flags for Democrats in their stalemate with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Here are five reasons why American public opinion may be betting against the Democrats in the shutdown battle:

1. More said avoiding a shutdown is important than continuing DACA

A majority of Americans, 56%, said approving a budget to avoid a government shutdown was more important for Congress to do than passing a bill to maintain the DACA program. Only one in three Americans, 34%, said they prioritized a DACA fix over avoiding a shutdown.

The preference for avoiding a shutdown holds across most demographic groups, even those that are traditionally Democratic-leaning. Among young people, it’s 50% avoid a shutdown to 42% maintain DACA. Racial and ethnic minorities preferred avoiding a shutdown by 51% to 39%. Women favored keeping the government open by 10 points, 49% to 39%.

2. Finding a DACA fix was seen as more important than opposing the wall

It’s true that most Americans oppose building a wall along the border with Mexico — but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to let the government close over it.

Among the group of Americans who say they both oppose building a wall and want to find a DACA solution — more than half of the country — a broad 8 in 10 said that continuing the DACA program is more important to them then blocking construction of a border wall. Only 1 in 6 said opposing the border wall is more important than continuing DACA.

Republican negotiators in Congress have said they would support a deal to continue with DACA if it also included funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, but Democrats have said they will not accept funding for a border wall as part of any deal.

3. More Americans said CHIP is a higher priority than DACA

Overall, 8 in 10 Americans said it is extremely or very important for the President and Congress to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program this year, through which lower income children are able to get health insurance even if their parents aren’t covered.

That ranks as a higher priority for Americans than DACA overall (a smaller majority of 63% consider dealing with DACA as big a priority), and opens the door to GOP messaging suggesting Democrats are scuttling one popular program with more pressing funding concerns in favor of their pet issue.

And Republicans have seized that opportunity. Republicans in the House, who don’t face the procedural hurdles which which their counterparts in the Senate are struggling, have passed a bill that funds the government and continues CHIP for six years. Republican leaders from both houses of Congress called out Senate Democrats’ inaction on that bill Friday, saying Democrats are ignoring an easy solution on CHIP and the nearly 9 million kids who would be affected by its lack of funding.

4. Democrats themselves barely agreed with congressional Democrats’ tradeoff

Not quite half of Democrats — 49% — said they think that finding a solution for the roughly 690,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children is a higher priority than keeping the government open. A significant minority, 42%, said they think it’s more important to avoid the first government shutdown since 2013.

That’s not a very wide margin, and it held up only among liberal Democrats (57% picked DACA, 35% a budget agreement). Among Democrats who say they are ideologically moderate or conservative, 51% said approving a budget agreement is more important, while 40% choose DACA.

Still, Democrats in Congress say they must find a solution for recipients of the DACA program, an Obama-era executive action that Trump halted in September while calling for a legislative fix.

5. Independents tended to agree with Republicans on these issues

Most independents fell in line with Republicans on the crucial choices facing both parties as a government shutdown approached. Independents fell squarely between Democrats and Republicans in their overall take on DACA: 82% supported continuing the program, more than the 72% of Republicans who did but less than the 96% of Democrats who backed it.

But a majority of independents, 57%, said they prioritized avoiding a government shutdown over finding a DACA solution. Only 34% said a DACA solution is more important.

Meanwhile, a broad 76% of independents said CHIP is extremely or very important, decidedly more than the 61% who said it’s extremely or very important to find a solution to DACA. (An even lower 56% said it’s extremely or very important to pass long-term spending bills to avoid government shutdowns.)

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS January 14-18 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. No interviewing was completed on January 16 due to weather conditions at call center locations. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.

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