Last week's elections have left Americans more optimistic about the prospects of President Obama and Congress reaching agreement on the most important issues facing the federal government, according to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll conducted ahead of the crucial lame-duck session beginning this week. That optimism is driven mainly by self-identified Democrats, and respondents express more confidence in Obama and his party than in congressional Republicans, the poll shows.
Overall, more Americans say it is "very important" for Congress to "address the job situation" than the other four issues tested in the poll. The next priority was to "improve public education," followed closely by "reduce the federal budget deficit" and "address the country's energy needs." Lagging behind was "address immigration policy," although Americans remain supportive of allowing at least some illegal immigrants to remain in the country if they have broken no other laws.
Fully 86 percent of respondents say that it is "very important" for Congress to act on jobs, up from 79 percent in mid-April. Another 10 percent rate it "somewhat important," while just 2 percent say that it is "not too important" or "not at all important."
Three in four say that it is very important for Congress to act on the federal deficit, about equal with public education but ahead of energy and immigration. On the deficit, energy, and immigration, more Americans now say these are very important than in April; the earlier survey did not ask about education.
The Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,000 adults on Nov. 8-11. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
The survey is the latest in a series of national polls tracking the public's priorities for Congress"”and its assessment of Washington's performance"”during most weeks that Congress is in session this year. The latest poll is the first survey conducted after last week's elections, which saw voters return Obama, a Democratically-led Senate, and a Republican-controlled House to Washington.
Americans have grown more optimistic that Obama and Congress will agree on legislation, the poll shows. Now, 31 percent say it is "very likely" that Obama and Congress will agree to jobs legislation, up from just 19 percent in April. The percentage who rate it "somewhat likely" also rose slightly, from 37 percent in April to 41 percent.
The uptick in confidence is not only powered by more optimistic Democrats after last week's elections, although the percentage of Democrats who think it is very likely that Obama and Congress will agree on jobs rose from 25 percent in April to 45 percent in the new poll. The "very likely" shares for Republicans and independents improved as well, albeit modestly.
Americans are also more optimistic about the prospects of debt reduction. Twenty-two percent say they think it is "very likely" that Obama and Congress will agree to reduce the deficit, up from 10 percent in April. An additional 34 percent say that it is somewhat likely, a slight increase from 27 percent in the previous survey. The percentage who say it is "not too likely" or "not at all likely" shrunk from 60 percent in April to 42 percent.
These results underscore Americans' expectations, as Congress prepares to confront the "fiscal cliff""”the simultaneous expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the automatic implementation of the sequester, a combination of discretionary and defense spending cuts triggered by the failure of the super committee on debt reduction.
Respondents express confidence that lawmakers will agree on improving public education, with two-thirds saying it is at least somewhat likely. Americans also think it is increasingly likely that Obama and Congress will agree on measures covering energy and immigration.
Americans have given Democrats a measure of trust after last week's elections. Fifty percent say they trust Obama and congressional Democrats more "to deal effectively with the problems facing the country in the coming months," compared with only 32 percent who trust congressional Republicans. Four percent trust both equally; 9 percent trust neither party; and 5 percent are undecided.
The starkest divide on this question comes along racial lines. Whites are split, with 41 percent trusting Obama and Democrats and 39 percent preferring the congressional GOP. Among whites without college degrees, 41 percent chose the GOP, while 39 percent picked Obama and the Democrats. But white college graduates showed more confidence in Obama and Democrats than in Republicans, 45 percent to 34 percent. Nonwhites overwhelmingly trust Obama and Democrats by 70 percent to 16 percent.
On illegal immigration, respondents were asked to choose among three approaches, with the least-lenient plan garnering the least support: Just 17 percent think the U.S. should "deport all illegal immigrants, no matter how long they have been in the U.S.," while 43 percent prefer deporting some illegal immigrants but allowing "those who have been here for many years and have broken no other laws to stay here legally." A third of respondents want the U.S. to "allow all illegal immigrants to stay, provided they have broken no other laws and commit to learning English and U.S. history."
While immigration was not the dominant issue in many of last week's elections, some have argued that Republicans should moderate their positions on the issue. Among self-identified Republicans in the new survey, just 29 percent support deporting all illegals, fewer than the 44 percent who would allow those who have broken no other laws to stay. One in five Republicans choose allowing all illegal immigrants to remain in the country.
Exit polls from last week also point to risks for the GOP in propounding an enforcement-only immigration policy. Fully 65 percent of voters last Tuesday said that most illegal immigrants should be "offered a chance to apply for legal status," while only 28 percent said they should be "deported to the country they came from." Moreover, GOP nominee Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of Hispanic voters, while just 3 in 10 Hispanics voted Republican in House races.