More than two years into his tenure as House speaker, John Boehner faces a public that is uncertain about who he is but has strong feelings—positive and negative—toward his policy initiatives, according to the latest findings of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
A plurality of those surveyed—39 percent—either had no opinion of the speaker or would not answer a question about his job performance. Among respondents who did express an opinion, 22 percent approved of Boehner’s performance and 38 percent disapproved. But if Boehner is an undefined figure for a substantial segment of the population, his ideas have traction. Earlier editions of the survey have shown substantial public support for building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, something the speaker has hammered at repeatedly and used as a battering ram against President Obama and congressional Democrats. This new survey shows that a less-well-known notion that Boehner has put forward—using some of the revenue from oil drilling to pay for the nation’s highways—was favored by 55 percent of those surveyed and opposed by 32 percent.
The public seems to take a dimmer view of Boehner’s efforts to repeal the 2010 health care bill, even as they share his skepticism toward what Republicans derisively call “Obamacare.” Two years after its passage, the public is deeply ambivalent about the legislation and overwhelmingly opposes its mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. In the latest Congressional Connection Poll, 66 percent opposed the mandate and 28 percent supported it, with even Democrats balking at the idea. Still, the survey found that only 37 percent of respondents thought the GOP effort to repeal the health care law was “helpful in highlighting concerns.” A more substantial figure—51 percent—thought it was “harmful in distracting Congress.”
Behind the slender majority that finds the congressional Republican effort at repeal to be distracting are some interesting demographic fissures. In terms of gender, men and women saw the question equally. When it came to race, though, black non-Hispanics thought the repeal effort to be harmful in distracting Congress, by a 69-to-29 percent margin. One key GOP demographic, white men without a college degree, also thought it was a distraction, by a 49-to-36 percent margin. The only group that seemed truly enthusiastic about congressional Republican efforts at repeal was, in fact, Republicans themselves, who viewed them as more helpful than harmful by a 66-to-23 percent margin. Ambivalence about Obama’s health care law, it seems, is not the same thing as enthusiasm for congressional Republicans’ quest to repeal it.
The survey shows the difficulties facing Boehner, or any politician, in a climate where the public is deeply skeptical and has yet to coalesce around one party’s philosophy. The poll showed deep skepticism about the Affordable Care Act, but also about reforming Medicare along the lines suggested by House Republicans. Their recent budget proposal would transform the system into one where seniors could use a fixed sum of money to purchase private insurance or pay to stay in the current program. Respondents opposed that by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, about the same animus they showed toward Obama’s individual mandate. Capturing a majority of the public in this kind of hostile atmosphere is something neither party has yet achieved.
The Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,003 adults on March 22-25. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
This article appears in the March 28, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.