As an European living in the US I'm baffled about the partial US government shutdown. Specifically the lack of public outcry surprises me. In general I have the feeling that people sympathize with the unpaid feds but don't seem to be overly angry with Washington (both parties and POTUS).

For example, I would assume that in most European countries there would have been a strike by the TSA workers, grounding the vast majority of the national passenger air travel. The economic damage of only a few days would spur the government into action, despite partisan agendas.

What makes the US so different that there is no hard push back against the partial shutdown from the population? Please stay factual and do not dwell in opinions or political party views.

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    So you want to know why people in the US are reacting in a particular way, but you don't want their opinions, only facts? What kind of fact could explain a cultural difference?
    – David Rice
    Jan 23, 2019 at 16:26
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    @DougO'Neal the question is why they and the public accept it. I've seen cable news with federal employees not able to buy medicine, having to choose between rent or food, rent or surgery, etc. I've also heard former FBI officials say this impact undercover work to the extent that they will lose informants (unable to pay them) and risk exposure of undercovers (unable to do criminal deals furing the time of the shutdown).
    – JJJ
    Jan 23, 2019 at 16:52
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    I understand that you are a new contributor, so you may not be aware of this: the moment you ask "Why" your are soliciting speculation and conjecture, this is frowned upon at this site. Your example of federal workers striking has been addressed - illegal in the US- so the shutdown has minimal impact (for the time being) on the bulk of Americans. IMO, the public does not "accept" the shutdown, however their non-acceptance has not risen to the level of pitchforks and mass marches
    – BobE
    Jan 23, 2019 at 17:07
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    Frame challenge - there seems to be plenty of outcry as far as I can see. Depends on your (subjective) definition of "little".
    – user4012
    Jan 23, 2019 at 17:49
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    Various comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a real answer.
    – Philipp
    Jan 23, 2019 at 19:04

5 Answers 5


To put in context that OP could understand, the US federal Government is similar to the government offices of the European union. I'm not saying the function or structure is similar, but I'm illustrating how far it is from the affairs of the normal citizen.

For example, I look out my window and my street is plowed, the highways are salted, the local courts are adjudicating, the police are policing, etc. What I need from government is being taken care of.

Further, please also be aware that the situation is fluid. No one knows how it is going to end and it will only get worse. As days go by, more things will fail. For example, my mother is retired and gets a stipend from the government for food. In anticipation of possible issues, she received her February Stipend last week, but what about March? This hints that you may see more people give an out cry in the future. But right now things are not much difference for the majority of us.

It is also worth mentioning that people are grumbling. Not just those who are furloughed, but those that depend on Federal services. For example Travelers are being hit hard. I just read a post about someone who is really upset that the "No-call" service is not working (that is a service where you complain of sales calls and attempt to get them to stop). Things are starting to fray.

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    "What I need from government is being taken care of." 800000 federal employees not working or not being paid and nobody misses them? It may be somewhat exaggerated that during the shutdown everything works as before. Jan 23, 2019 at 21:12
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    @Trilarion, it is possible, some people do depend a lot on the federal government. For the employees not working it is sure affecting them. The other 99.6% of the population is going about its business today. And I mean TODAY. It is absolutely going to affect more and more people as time continues. Jan 23, 2019 at 21:26
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    @Trilarion - Remember, both state and local governments are still operating normally, and they're the ones who have the most day-to-day presence for people.
    – Bobson
    Jan 24, 2019 at 12:52
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    @Trilarion No one is saying that this is a good situation. But the fact remains that to most people, nothing has changed.
    – Harabeck
    Jan 24, 2019 at 22:56
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    You're right, that's what I always hear people saying. "I wish the government wouldn't spend less. The IRS needs to get more aggressive with audits."
    – user15103
    Jan 27, 2019 at 2:27

There are a few things to realize about the US governmental system, that Europeans often don't get. The first is that these shutdowns are not that unusual. There have been shutdowns of some kind under pretty much every president in modern times. (Of course that begs the question "Why hasn't there been outcry every time one happens", but people do get used to things.)

Second, only the Federal government is affected, and the US have fewer services delivered by the Federal (i.e. national) government than other countries. A lot of day-to-day services are delivered at the state and municipal level. And for some essential services provision is mandatory, meaning the workers have to show up whether they are being paid or not.

Third US politics is adversarial. Really adversarial. A huge number of supporters of both political parties think that the other party is utterly evil and out to destroy the country. This means they will endure a lot of inconvenience if they think it's aimed at thwarting the plans of the 'enemy'. In most other democracies, especially European, most citizens would agree that the most important job of the government is to make sure that the country actually runs smoothly, and that ideological programs come second. (This isn't always true, but it's a lot more true than in the US.) The adversarial approach means that some party supporters see any form of compromise as 'siding with the enemy'. While in most democracies coming to a sensible compromise is a political win for both sides, in the US it can be a political loss for both sides, leading to more support for the extremist wing of your party.

Fourthly the US system if government is virtually guaranteed to have power split between its legislative bodies, and means that the three main parts of government - President, Senate and House of Representitives - are usually controlled by two different parties, and since the system give virtual veto power to each part, deadlock is inevitable. The US public has been constantly told that their system is "The best in the world", so they assume that these shutdowns are just inevitable.

Fifthly most Americans don't have any real exposure to political systems outside their own country, and what there is is often focussed on pointing out flaws (real or imaginary). This means they don't realize that shutdowns like this don't happen everywhere.

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    Can any of these claims be supported by either outside evidence or particular experiences you've had? Jan 23, 2019 at 19:17
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    "these shutdowns are not that unusual" This is, by far, the longest shutdown in US history, and they didn't happen at all for the first 200 years or so. And your third point is just wrong - there've been many times when the government wasn't split, and there've been times - in the past few years - where the government was under 1 party control and still shut down.
    – David Rice
    Jan 23, 2019 at 19:27
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    @indigochild Which ones are you doubting? It's a matter of record that the US has had shutdowns under every recent president. That US politics is exceptionally adversarial is attested to by any commentator with knowledge of more than one country. The functioning of the US government is widely known, and you can read about it if you don't believe me. The last point is also well attested to by any political commentator. Jan 23, 2019 at 19:28
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    @DavidRice They are extremely common by comparison with other democracies, where they almost literally don't happen at all. I certainly agree that this is the longest, but their frequency goes some way to explaining the lack of outcry so far. Jan 23, 2019 at 19:29
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    @indigochild You obviously know very little about European politics. Jan 23, 2019 at 19:36

Because the US a Federal system, a lot of Government function is handled by the States or even at the local level. Examples include police, fire services, schools, many courts, garbage collection, and most roadwork.

Even at the Federal level, many things are still running. Examples include Federal courts, Social Security (Federal pensions), the post office, the military, some Federal contractors, and air traffic control.

Some things are partly curtailed. Examples include the IRS, Federal parks, some Federal contractors, and some museums. Some people are affected by these things. Many aren't, at least not immediately.

EDIT: With the benefit of hindsight, it is now (May 2019) worth adding one additional point. There were a lot of warnings in the press about how the shutdown would hurt the economy, i.e. from CBS or the NYT, or from Vox. But in fact, growth topped expectations. These particular warnings simply weren't accurate. Now getting back to Americans, some believe such warnings and others don't. I don't want to pretend that the doubters are right every time. but sometimes they are. And for that portion of Americans, this was another reason not to be particularly concerned about the shutdown.


1. Individual and States' Rights, Capitalism: Most vital and responsive services do not go through the federal government. With the exception of some federal employees, a federal government shutdown does not immediately interfere with the daily lives of most citizens. Your mileage may vary based on which European nation(s) you relate best to, but the percentage of government employees in the U.S., while uncomfortably high, is roughly half that of Norway's (15.9% versus 30%), and the U.S. is at least a couple points below average when compared to the whole of Europe. If Americans need to buy something, send something, or be somewhere, they rely largely on private commerce. When they need a bill made into law, a judgment passed on a matter in federal courts, a presidential pardon, a war declared, etc. they need Congress or the judiciary or the presidential office or investigative task forces up and running. Local law enforcement provides the bulk of peacekeeping services, and the division of responsibilities into state and local government and private commerce explains much of the resiliency. The grocery store, the gas station and the Internet still usually function just fine for the interim. This is designed into the Constitution, that the people and the states respectively reserve the broadest rights (Articles 11 and 12 in the original Bill of Rights). The more federal shutdowns there are, the more the people and the states will be weaned off of the necessity for daily federal intervention in their personal lives. It has been acceptable for Congress to convene only occasionally in the past, so why not today?

2. Federalism itself, leading to benefits of scale: A primary argument for the federal government advanced in the Federalist Papers was that the United States would be more robust to local commercial upset and to partisan intrigue:

It has often given me pleasure to observe that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. Providence has in a particular manner blessed it with a variety of soils and productions, and watered it with innumerable streams, for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants. A succession of navigable waters forms a kind of chain round its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, present them with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities. With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence. This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.


3. The ethics and values of the people themselves. The current implementation of Constitutional rights and federalism is far from perfect, but self-reliance is built into the very ethic of the people. To the extent that it still prevails, the unity and solidarity of the American people regardless of the condition of their leadership is an excellent argument for their not being up in arms about a shutdown. This does not contradict the existence of diffidence by some, but the American people know they can outlast the partisanry of participants in the federal government, and not the other way around. They have already fought and won a war for their independence, and fought again to preserve that union, and succeeded.


Have a look at the book Manficaturing Consent by Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman which helps explain how corporate interests have captured the commanding heights of the media.

By this means, they have turned a putatively free press, into one bound to their corporate pay-masters, and one which is addicted to so called ‘celebrity culture’. The media then becomes a weapon of mass distraction rather than one aimed at informing the citizen body.

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