Poll Holds Warning for Tea Party Republicans: Don't Try This Again

Over Columbus Day weekend, NRDC had the firm Public Policy Polling conduct a survey to find out how Americans were thinking about the government shutdown and particularly its environmental consequences.    

The numbers from that poll should be a clear warning to Tea Party Republicans who are already spoiling for the next fight:  The vast majority of the American public does not like shutdowns, and it does not like attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The right-wingers who tried to make EPA the face of the shutdown this time should take note – you are grossly out of step with the public.  

For example, earlier this week, Republicans posted a blog on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee website arguing that the closure of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a reason the government shutdown “wasn’t all bad.”  Similar comments have been made by right-wing Members of the House and by Fox News commentators. 

The PPP poll found very little sympathy for that attitude.  Instead, 70 percent of Americans say they would feel “less favorable” about an elected official who said it was “a good thing for the EPA to be closed.”  Even 64 percent of Speaker Boehner’s constituents shared that sentiment. 

That finding is in keeping with the overall public opposition to shutting down EPA.

The poll found overwhelming opposition to the fact that the government shutdown was preventing EPA from doing its job.  Nationally, 65 percent “oppose the EPA being prevented from doing its work because of the government shutdown.”  Even in Speaker Boehner’s own Congressional district, 58 percent opposed the impact the shutdown is having on EPA. 

As in other areas of policy, the shutdown was opposed even by those with doubts about federal programs.  The public broadly backs environmental protection – 60 percent of Americans think the EPA is doing just the right amount or not enough to protect the environment – but an even greater percentage of Americans opposed EPA being shut down.  That phenomenon also carried through in Speaker Boehner’s own district, where 52 percent think EPA is doing just the right amount or not enough, while 58 percent oppose it being shut down.  Even more oppose an EPA shutdown when reminded of specific EPA responsibilities.

That includes EPA’s responsibility to address climate change.  65 percent of Americans are opposed to a shutdown that “interferes with [EPA] developing carbon pollution limits.” This sentiment holds firmly across every state and district we examined.  It’s even higher in Maine and North Carolina where 70 percent of respondents opposed this interference. Even in John Boehner’s district, 62 percent of constituents are opposed to the interference.

This poll should also be a warning to once-moderate House Republicans who have thrown in their lot with the Tea Party radicals.  Take for example, Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey, who waffled on the shutdown.  In his district, 63 percent of constituents oppose the shutdown and almost the same amount – 62 percent – opposed EPA being shuttered.  Even a majority of Republicans in Lance’s district opposed EPA being shut down. 

And, by the way, opposition to closing down the EPA is strong among both men and women, though even stronger among women – 68 percent of women were opposed vs. 62 percent for men.  Opposition to the shutdown’s impact on EPA also carries across all age groups, but opposition to interfering with carbon pollution limits is especially strong among 18-29 year olds.

At a time when we keep hearing about how polarized the country is, it’s important to remember that there is a broad majority against what the Tea Party and Speaker Boehner needlessly and destructively put us through the past few weeks.  Most Americans wanted the government reopened, most Americans support the work of the EPA, and most Americans want EPA to be on the job.  That’s true nationally, that’s true in Speaker Boehner’s district, that’s true in the districts of weak-kneed moderate Republicans.  Yet for 16 days, the House Republican Leadership, the Tea Party and their Senate allies managed both to put their fingers in their ears and thumb their noses at the American people.

The question now is whether they will continue in their willful contempt for public opinion.  The clear message of this poll is not to force another shutdown, and not to engage in partisan warfare against the EPA.  We’ll see if that message is heeded.  Instead of writing snarling blogs that make sad and unsuccessful attempts to lampoon the EPA, House and Senate Republicans ought to be spending their time preparing a budget that provides the American people with the level of environmental protection they support and expect.