The most telling result on this question may be the inclination among independents, who provide the margin of victory in many districts and have careened between the parties over the past three elections. In the poll, just 25 percent of independents say they believe their own member of Congress deserves reelection, while 56 percent say they are now inclined to support somebody new.
Another telling measure of discontent is the resistance to investing either party with unified control of Congress. Although electoral analysts give Republicans a strong chance of holding the House while recapturing the Senate next year, just 18 percent of adults say they would prefer the GOP to control both chambers after the 2012 election “so they can implement their agenda.” Only one-in-four want Democrats to exercise unified control. Fully 48 percent say they would prefer each party to control “one of the two chambers so they can act as a check on each other.”
Divided government draws the most interest from independents, nearly two-thirds of whom say they would prefer that outcome. But, in another striking measure of disillusionment, even roughly two-fifths of both Democrats and Republicans say they would prefer split control that empowers each party to constrain the other.
Jobs soundly trump the deficit as the country’s top priority for 2012 in Congress. Asked what they would most like to see Congress accomplish over the next year, 53 percent picked “a plan to create more jobs,” compared with 28 percent who place the top priority on a plan to reduce the deficit, and 13 percent who most want Washington to repeal Obama’s health care plan. The tilt toward jobs is greatest among Democrats, but a majority of independents also list that as their top priority. Republicans split more evenly among jobs, the deficit, and repealing health care reform.
Drilling down deeper, the survey found more support for Democratic plans to increase employment by boosting spending on infrastructure and grants to states to prevent layoffs (21 percent) than GOP priorities of reducing taxes and regulation (11 percent.) Ten percent supported investment in renewable energy, another favorite of Democrats, compared with 9 percent who backed the Republican priority of ramping up fossil-fuel production.
Yet there’s little expectation that Washington will make progress on any of these challenges. Only about three in 10 say they have “a lot” or even “some” confidence that “the government in Washington, D.C., will make progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country”; nearly seven in 10 say they have not much or no confidence at all. That’s also the most negative response the Congressional Connection Poll has recorded on that question. About twice as many Democrats (47 percent) as Republicans (24 percent) express at least some confidence progress will be made. But more than four in five independents are pessimistic.
That finding underscores the persistent strain of alienation in the survey among independent voters, who have repeatedly snapped back and forth between the two parties since 2004—and now approach another volatile election year expressing deep disenchantment with both sides.