As the presidential and congressional election season rolls on, the political landscape seems somewhat more favorable for Democrats than for Republicans, but neither party has been able to overcome the deep distrust that Americans seem to have for Congress, and neither side can afford to be anything less than nervous come Election Day.
The newest findings of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll show a public that’s predisposed to voting more Democratic. In a head-to-head race, President Obama bests Mitt Romney 47 percent to 39 percent, with 9 percent of respondents saying neither and 5 percent refusing or not knowing. Likewise, 50 percent of respondents wanted Democrats to keep control of the U.S. Senate, compared to 39 percent who favored a GOP majority. And by a 3 point margin, 46 percent to 43 percent, those surveyed said they wanted Democrats to take control of the House—down from a much sharper 11 percent lead as recently as January. Democrats found their strongest support among minorities and women.
The divides are striking on certain questions. When it comes to the presidential race, an astounding 94 percent of non-Hispanic African-Americans favored Obama over Romney, who garnered just 1 percent. By contrast, 55 percent of white men with some college education or less favored Romney, compared to 29 percent for the president.
Throughout the last several months, the Congressional Connection Poll has probed voter attitudes toward Congress and the issues it faces. While each party has had some breakthrough issues that have commanded large majorities of support, neither has been able to make a case that commands the public’s enduring loyalty.
For instance, the poll has shown large majorities backing the Republican positions for building the Keystone XL pipeline and opposing the individual mandate in the president’s health care law that people must buy health insurance. Conversely, the public supported the Democratic proposal to increase taxes on wealthier earners. But those are the exceptions. More often than not, the poll finds the public is of many minds about the parties and the issues.
For instance, in this latest edition, 30 percent of respondents said they’d be more likely to back a congressional candidate if they would vote most of the time with Obama, versus 23 percent who said the same about one who would vote with Romney.
Voters showed a marked enthusiasm for a hypothetical congressional candidate who “would vote to raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 per year.” Nearly half of respondents—48 percent—said that they’d be more likely to vote for such a candidate, while 25 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for one.
Republicans can draw succor from the fact that a plurality of respondents also said they would be more inclined to vote for a congressional candidate who “would oppose any tax increases.” On that front, 38 percent said they’d be more likely to back the no-new-taxes candidate, while 30 percent would be less likely to do so.
Yet, in a world where public opinion is volatile and divided and where elected officials are viewed with profound skepticism, neither party can really draw much comfort from these results.
In the same survey, a narrow plurality of voters—33 percent—said that the country is more likely to make progress on major issues if there is divided government. Some 25 percent of respondents foresaw more progress if Republicans held complete control of Congress and the White House, and 28 percent believed that having Democrats at the helm of the legislative and executive branches would lead to more getting done.
The poll also showed 77 percent of those surveyed think it’s time to give new people a chance in public office, although 38 percent said they believe that their own members of Congress deserve reelection. This view—holding the institution in disregard while having a somewhat kinder view of one’s own lawmaker—has been called the “I’m OK, You’re Not” syndrome. It’s a dicey one for members of Congress trying to gauge the prevailing political winds.
The latest edition of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,004 adults by landline and cell phone on April 19-22. It has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.
This article appears in the April 25, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.