Americans trust Democrats, by a narrow plurality, to do a better job coping with the nation’s major problems over the next few years, but neither party can claim an edge on the economic or fiscal issues likely to dominate the 2012 debate, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows.
Overall, 39 percent of Americans say they trust Democrats more on the main problems the nation faces, while 33 percent trust Republicans more. Two percent said they trust both parties equally, while 16 percent volunteered that they trusted neither Democrats nor Republicans. Ten percent were undecided.
The 6-point Democratic lead on this question is just half the party’s advantage in a Congressional Connection Poll from late July, when both parties were in the midst of a showdown over whether to raise the federal debt limit. In the previous poll, 43 percent of Americans said they trusted Democrats more, while 31 percent said they trusted Republicans.
The Democratic slide comes largely from those who identify themselves as independents; today, they say they trust Republicans by a slim, 31-percent-to-27-percent margin over Democrats. More than a quarter of independents, 28 percent, say they trust neither party, although that response was not offered as a choice by the poll’s interviewers.
Three months ago, Democrats held a 9-point advantage among independents, with only 24 percent saying they trusted the GOP more.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Oct. 27-30, surveying 1,002 adults. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The survey included live telephone interviews conducted via landline and cell phones. The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys that will track the public’s priorities for Congress—and its assessment of Washington’s performance—during most weeks that Congress is in session through 2012.
Despite Democrats’ slight edge overall, Americans don’t give either side a clear advantage on the economy. Forty percent said they trust Democrats more on the economy, while 38 percent chose Republicans. Independents tilt Republican on this question by 8 percentage points.
Wealthier Americans are more likely to trust Republicans on economic issues. Among those whose 2010 family income was greater than $75,000,
Republicans lead by 51 percent to 36 percent. Democrats lead by 44 percent to 25 percent among those who made less than $30,000 last year. Those making between $30,000 and $75,000 were almost evenly divided between the two parties.
For nearly two years, the two parties have been virtually tied when it comes to the economy, according to separate polling conducted by the Pew Research Center. But from 2004 to 2009, Democrats held a significant advantage on the issue.
A CBS News/New York Times poll released last week showed that a majority of Americans ranked the economy as the No. 1 issue facing the country—57 percent chose the economy and jobs as most important.
Republicans also score well on the federal budget deficit. Americans prefer them over the Democrats by a 4-point margin, and that advantage jumps to 14 points among independents. Trends from the Pew Research Center find Republicans tied with or leading Democrats on the deficit issue for most of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Americans say that Democrats would handle the problems in the housing market better than Republicans, by 41 percent to 34 percent, and they pick Democrats to solve the nation’s energy problems by an even wider margin, 44 percent to 34 percent.
Meanwhile, despite the Obama administration’s foreign-policy successes—including killing Osama bin Laden six months ago and NATO’s campaign against former Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi—more Americans trust Republicans to protect the United States against terrorism. Republicans’ lead on terrorism stands at 41 percent to 32 percent. Obama’s successes, in other words, have done little to erase his party’s long-standing disadvantage on national-security issues.
Results unveiled in Tuesday’s edition of National Journal Daily showed the two parties tied on a generic congressional ballot among a subsample of registered voters, and voters are also split between reelecting Obama and electing a Republican challenger.
The poll explored the public’s feelings about divided government, finding that nearly half of Americans say it doesn’t matter much either way if the White House and Congress are controlled by the same party or by different parties. Slightly more Americans, 26 percent, say they prefer it when the president’s party also controls Congress, while 18 percent said it is better for the White House and Congress to be controlled by different parties; 45 percent said it doesn’t matter. Eleven percent had no opinion.
Democrats were more likely to say they wanted the White House and Congress controlled by the same party, preferring that option to divided government, 36 percent to 16 percent, with 39 percent saying it doesn’t matter. Republicans and independents were split between one-party rule and divided government, with sizable pluralities saying it doesn’t matter much either way.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the date on which polling began. It began Oct. 27.
This article appears in the Nov. 2, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.