The U.S. government has come to a standstill as Republicans and Democrats clash over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) negotiations, and it appears that the public, as well as the media, aren’t sure who to blame. As one would expect, Republicans and Democrats on the Hill are busy shifting the culpability onto each other in predictable partisan fashion; yet, a large swathe of the media are hedging their bets regarding the inevitable blame-game that accompanies government shutdowns.
Political allegiances seem to rule media coverage in today’s so-called “post-truth” era, but what happens when the data doesn’t support your narrative? While conservative outlets like Fox News are well within their comfort zone, archetypal Democrat-supporting media network CNN appears to be waiting for a clear sign before they put the hammer down. This is likely due to a poll commissioned by the network that revealed the majority of Americans view DACA as less important than avoiding a shutdown altogether.
The government shutdown began on Friday just after midnight following a vote by the Senate on a proposal to extend federal funding until February. A Democrat-led filibuster scuppered the extension, with the party hoping to force Republicans into reinstating the DACA program.
While Trump has agreed to approve DACA in exchange for a Democrat vote to allocate border wall funding, the Democrats appear unwilling to make any concessions, hoping to maneuver a government shutdown into a DACA victory without giving anything up in return.
Further complicating matters is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding, which has been delayed, leaving 1.75 million children at risk of losing their health insurance. Republicans are touting this as the Democrats placing immigrant lives over that of American lives, and indeed few Americans could see a government negotiation as being more important than the lives of sick children, given that President Trump’s deadline for a DACA decision isn’t due until March.
MEDIA UNCERTAINTY AND ASSIGNING BLAME
Republican and Democrat operatives are engaged in a battle of assigning blame for the shutdown, mostly in the form of a hashtag war on Twitter – because that’s what political discourse has come to in 2018. Ahead of midterm elections, each party is desperate to brand themselves as the righteous option. Democrats are promoting the “#TrumpShutdown” maxim versus the Republican tag “#SchumerShutdown,” referring to the Democrat Senate minority leader. It looks as if the President and Republicans are losing that particular branding battle, with #TrumpShutdown trending high on Twitter. However, when faced with the practical realities of the stalemate, most Americans say they would have preferred the Democrats to accept the proffered extension deal.
Much of the press has resisted the temptation to place outright blame on either party. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told Politico:
When the narrative structure is clear, the headlines are all virtually identical. They’re not. What that says is the press is dealing with a high level of complexity here…In this environment, the narrative is not a clear narrative. It’s a cluttered narrative. It doesn’t produce press stories that say ‘blame here, credit there.’
A HIERARCHY OF PRIORITIES
The pro-Democrat media is all too happy to take a chunk out of the president, but in this case, CNN appears to have been caught off-guard by its own polling:
- 56% of Americans thought it was more important to approve a budget than to keep DACA going.
- Even Democrat supporters were split almost down the middle on the matter, with 42% agreeing that preventing a government shutdown was more important than a DACA solution.
- Even though 82% of independents supported DACA, 57% said that avoiding a shutdown was more important than DACA. They seem to feel more strongly about the CHIP program than DACA, with 76% saying that CHIP was very/extremely important, compared to only 61% who said that DACA was very/extremely important.
- Americans in general rated CHIP as more important than DACA: 80% of respondents viewed CHIP as extremely/very important, with only 63% giving DACA the same urgency.
- 80% said that reaching a DACA agreement was more important than blocking a border wall.
The poll also found public blame fairly evenly divided between Trump (21%), who initiated the DACA debate by rescinding the program in September, the Republicans in Congress (26%), and Democrats (31%). The fact that a poll conducted by a left-leaning organization divides the blame three ways has resulted in uncertainty about pushing the standard narrative.
While Democrats and Republicans battle it out for control over the blame game — one thing Americans seem to agree on is that people – whether that is DACA migrants, public servants, or CHIP kids – are of more importance than the petty squabbling of D.C. elites.