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Budget Fight Carries Big Risks for Both Parties: Poll

Both parties face significant political risks if they fail to resolve their budget disagreements and avert a government shutdown, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows.

Barack Obama
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Barack Obama

The survey, conducted in the run-up toward the April 8 deadline for extending the federal government's funding, found that most Americans neither want nor expect a shutdown.

Fully three in four predicted that political leaders will resolve their disagreements and avoid one. Six in 10 want Congress and the White House "to make the necessary compromises to keep the federal government running."

"People are not psychologically there," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the NBC/WSJ survey with Republican counterpart Bill McInturff.

For now, the survey shows that a 37 percent plurality would blame Congressional Republicans if a shutdown occurs. Some 20 percent say they'd blame Congressional Democrats and another 20 percent would blame President Obama.

Republicans have long feared a repeat of their setbacks in 1995-1996 after a budget stalemate between President Clinton and Republican Congress produced a government shutdown. But the actual political effects won't be known unless and until a shutdown actually occurs.

In one respect, public finger-pointing toward Republicans would be no surprise: in the poll, a 56 percent majority of self-described Republicans say they want their representatives in Congress to stick to their positions rather than compromise.

An even larger majority of Tea Party Republicans rejects the idea of compromise. By contrast, roughly two-thirds of self-described Democrats say their want their representatives to compromise.

The potential disruption comes at a time of generally improved political conditions for Mr. Obama.

His 49 percent approval ratings is, with the exception of a brief spike over 50 percent following the January Tucson shootings, his best showing since last May.

Economic optimism has ticked up slightly amid improved hiring by businesses. The proportion predicting the economy will get worse over the next year has fallen since February to 21 percent from 29 percent; the proportion predicting improvement has ticked up to 33 percent from 29 percent.

The better mood tracks solid approval of a series of policy steps Mr. Obama has taken lately.

Some 71 percent back his decision to allow some offshore oil drilling to resume after last year's spill. Sixty-seven percent approve Mr. Obama's decision to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for terror suspects, and 66 percent back his decision to support a no-fly zone in Libya.

A 58 percent majority approves Mr. Obama's decision to freeze domestic government spending, while 37 percent disapprove.

The telephone survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted March 31-April 4, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.

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