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Shutdowns Are Different From Almost Everything Else in Politics

sometimes they’re there

There are some who argue the government shutdown will not have much of a political impact a year from now because it will be mostly forgotten. An example of this opinion from Nate Silver:

1. The media is probably overstating the magnitude of the shutdown’s political impact.

Remember Syria? The fiscal cliff? Benghazi? The IRS scandal? The collapse of immigration reform? All of these were hyped as game-changing political moments by the news media, just as so many stories were during the election last year. In each case, the public’s interest quickly waned once the news cycle turned over to another story. Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won’t turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time.

Or consider the other story from President Obama’s tenure in office that has the most parallels to the shutdown: the tense negotiations, in 2011, over the federal debt ceiling. The resolution to that crisis, which left voters across the political spectrum dissatisfied, did have some medium-term political impact: Obama’s approval ratings declined to the low 40s from the high 40s, crossing a threshold that historically marks the difference between a reelected president and a one-termer, and congressional approval ratings plunged to record lows.

But Obama’s approval ratings reverted to the high 40s by early 2012, enough to facilitate his reelection. Meanwhile, reelection rates for congressional incumbents were close to their long-term averages.

(emphasis mine)

The important thing is that a shutdown is nothing like some of these other “scandals.” How many Americans were directly affected by the IRS scandal? How many people’s lives were changed in any way by Benghazi?

The shutdown resulted in roughly a million people being furloughed or laid off. And it actually affected millions more Americans in ways big and small. Everything from park closures to not being able to access government data sources.

Most people don’t care about politics or media hype, they care about their day to day lives, but when politics get in the way they notice.

Yes, the media lives in a bubble. It also has a bad habit of crying wolf all the time to get attention, but that doesn’t mean that sometimes there aren’t actually wolves there.

I would say the only legitimate comparison to this shutdown Silver listed is immigration reform. Millions of Americans with undocumented family members are very aware how the issue touches their lives daily. While it is tough to isolate the impact from this recent reform push falling apart, there is no doubt the immigration fight in general is having a huge impact on politics. Mitt Romney took a hard right stance on the issue which dramatically helped move Hispanics into the Democratic camp.

Photo by Tambako The Jaguarnder Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at