The Obama administration and congressional Democrats have spent much of this spring criticizing Hill Republicans for what they say is the GOP’s opposition to legislative initiatives including the Violence Against Women Act, student-loan subsidies, and the Paycheck Fairness Act. A new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows that Democrats enjoy popular support for these efforts, particularly from female and younger Americans, among whom the party seeks to enrich its electoral advantages heading into November.
The poll shows that Americans largely favor the Democrats’ positions on these issues: Majorities favor provisions protecting gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence and making it easier for women to sue for wage discrimination. A plurality prefers Democrats’ plans to pay for student-loan subsidies by raising taxes on some businesses, as opposed to Republicans’ plans to shift money from a preventative-health fund created as part of the 2010 health care law. On all three issues, Democrats enjoy wider advantages among women and young Americans.
This United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 999 adults from May 3-6. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.
The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys that track the public’s priorities for Congress—and its assessment of Washington’s performance—during most weeks that Congress is in session during this election year.
The Democratic-led Senate passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act last month, and the bill is currently pending before the House. The poll tested three provisions that were added to the legislation, finding varying degrees of support.
Sixty-two percent of respondents support “including gays and lesbians in the group that is protected under this law,” compared with only 30 percent who are opposed to that addition. Among women, 67 percent support expanding the law to cover gays and lesbians, as do 77 percent of respondents ages 18-29 and 69 percent of those 18-49.
Fifty-eight percent also support “expanding the authority of Native American officials to handle abuse cases of Indian women by non-Indians.” Once again, support runs higher among women and young adults.
A provision “increasing the number of visas granted to abused legal and illegal immigrants from 10,000 to 15,000” fails to gain popular backing, however: 42 percent support it, while 47 percent oppose it. Fifty-two percent of adults under age 50 support the provision, but only a third of those 50 and older support it. Just 43 percent of women support that addition, but, among adults under age 50, women (55 percent) are more likely to support it than men (49 percent).
Meanwhile, the poll also questioned respondents about the parties’ positions on two issues currently before Congress. Both parties favor extending subsidies that allow college students to continue receiving loans at lower rates, but they disagree on how to pay for it.
Interviewers told poll respondents that Democrats “want to raise taxes on some businesses” while Republicans “want to shift money from a preventative health fund that was created as part of the president’s health care plan.”
Fully half of respondents said they favor Democrats’ plans to pay for these student loans, while only 34 percent favored the GOP’s approach. Eleven percent volunteered that they favored neither plan or another plan, and 5 percent did not know or refused to answer the question. Among young adults, support for the Democratic plan ran strong. Fifty-eight percent of those aged 18-29 favored the Democrats’ approach, compared with just 28 percent who preferred the Republican plan. Women were also more likely to choose the Democratic student-loan pay-for, 53 percent to 30 percent. The gender gap was even more striking among white Americans: White men preferred the GOP plan, 43 percent to 38 percent, but white women chose the Democratic plan, 50 percent to 32 percent.
President Obama last week traveled to college campuses in the battleground states of North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa to push for these student-loan subsidies, looking to boost enthusiasm among younger supporters. The GOP-led House last month approved a bill extending the loan subsidy, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decried the bill as an “assault on women’s health.” The Senate was set to take up its own version of the bill on Monday.
Senate Democrats are also planning to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would, poll respondents were told, “make it easier for women to sue for wage discrimination.” Democrats “say the bill would promote fairness in the workplace,” poll interviewers said, while Republicans “say it would encourage too many unjustified lawsuits.”
Asked whom they were more likely to trust on this issue, 52 percent chose Democrats, while 36 percent picked Republicans. Twelve percent said they trusted neither party or another party, did not know, or refused to answer the question.
Men were split on the question—44 percent trust Democrats, 43 percent Republicans—but women lean heavily toward the Democratic Party. Fifty-nine percent of women said they trusted Democrats more on this issue, and just 29 percent trust Republicans more. The gender gap is wider among whites: Republicans lead among white men on this issue, 50 percent to 35 percent, but white women trust Democrats more, 55 percent to 32 percent.
Younger voters also leaned heavily toward Democrats, with 62 percent saying they trusted them more on this issue, compared with only 31 percent for the GOP. Among those 50 or older, 51 percent trust Democrats more, and 37 percent trust Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly plans to introduce the bill in the coming weeks, despite the fact that Republicans defeated the measure in unanimous opposition in the 2010 lame-duck session.
This article appears in the May 8, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.