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October 15, 2013

Public opinion expert: Gov. shutdown provides canvas for future party leaders

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — While the negative public perception of government is likely to carry over to midterm elections, some politicians are banking on voters remembering their individual roles in the shutdown in a way that helps launch their political careers, says a Purdue University public opinion expert.

"History is not likely to repeat itself with the animosity that followed the shutdowns in the late 1990s, but public opinion today makes it clear that Americans want a results-oriented government. Parties are being hurt and will continue to be hurt if they are perceived as putting their own interests above national interests," says James McCann, a professor of political science who studies voter behavior and public opinion. "Citizens are clearly paying attention to current events in Washington. The question is whether the current crisis will lead to greater civic engagement as we move toward the midterm and 2016 presidential elections."

The shutdown, just like other events in the national spotlight, is a time for the next crop of political leaders to emerge and make a name for themselves, McCann says. However, this individual showcasing is not always best for the political parties.

"Matching the individual ambitions of, say, Senator Ted Cruz, to the party's long-term goals is not easy," McCann says. "Many emerging leaders in the major parties are branding themselves through particular issues. At times this divides them from partisan leaders. Figuring out how to reconcile the individual ambitions of lawmakers with the organizational interests of the Republicans and Democrats is a sixty-four-dollar-question in American politics. At the moment, this tension is hitting the Republicans especially hard." 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu 

Source: James McCann, 765-494-0738, mccannj@purdue.edu  

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