WASHINGTON — The impasse that shut down much of the federal government for 16 days has left Americans in the sort of throw-the-bums-out mood that presaged two recent tumultuous elections in which control of the House of Representatives shifted from one party to the other.
In a nationwide USA TODAY/Princeton Survey Research Poll, just 4% of those surveyed — equal to the margin of error — say Congress would be changed for the worse if nearly every member was replaced next year. Nearly half say it would work better. About four in 10 say a wholesale overhaul wouldn't make much difference.
Those findings are similar to the public's views in previous years when voter dismay cost one side or the other control of the House. In 1994, when Democrats lost their majority, 40% said Congress would be better off if most members were replaced. In 2006, when Republicans lost control, 42% held that view.
Now 47% say Congress would work better if nearly every seat changed hands next year. (The question wasn't asked in 2010, when Republicans regained control.)
Among Republicans and Republican leaners, a 52% majority say Congress would be better off if most of the current members were replaced — even though the GOP now controls the House and holds most of those seats.
"This is a real warning about the GOP pursuing this strategy in 2014," says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and co-author of American Government and Popular Discontent, published this spring. "The telling moment will come in January and February, when we face another debt limit and a possible shutdown."
In contrast, the level of discontent was lower before elections in which control of the House didn't change hands. In 2002, just 26% said Congress would be better off if most members were replaced.
Of course, the new poll was taken a year before voters go to the polls, time for new issues to emerge and the political landscape to be reshaped.
In the aftermath of the shutdown, though, Republicans clearly are bearing the brunt of the blame. By 2-to-1, 39%-19%, those surveyed say Republicans deserve more blame, not Democrats. Thirty-six percent say the two parties share the blame equally.
Even Republicans, presumably inclined to blame the other side, are divided about whether responsibility belongs to the Democrats are to both parties equally. That's not true among Democrats: Eight in 10 say the GOP is largely to blame.
Democrats by 2-1, 22%-11%, have a more favorable opinion of their party in the aftermath of the shutdown.
But the GOP takes a hit among its own troops, highlighting the divide between those who align with the Tea Party and those who don't. Tea Party Republicans, a little more than a third of all Republicans and those who lean to the GOP, applaud the recent tactics: By 29%-18%, they say events of the last few weeks have given them a more favorable rather than less favorable opinion of the party.
For Republicans and Republican leaners who don't support the Tea Party, their view of the GOP has gotten worse. By 27%-12%, they have a less favorable rather than more favorable opinion.
"There's a great internal debate in the GOP about whether any of these tactics made sense," Schier says.
The survey of 1,001 adults, taken Thursday through Sunday, has a margin of error is +/-4 percentage points.
One more sign of trouble for the GOP: By nine points, Americans who live in districts they say are represented by a Republican say the deadlock has made them less likely to vote for the incumbent. Those who say they are represented by a Democrat are by one point more likely to support him or her.