A strong plurality of Americans are seeking members of Congress who are more willing to compromise, but that impulse, so far at least, has not redounded to the benefit of either Mitt Romney or President Obama, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
When asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a congressional candidate who “would make compromises with people he or she disagrees with,” a full 43 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for that candidate, while only 20 percent said they would be less likely. Some 34 percent said that it would make no difference.
By contrast, back in May 2010, only 30 percent said that ability to compromise would make a difference in how they decided to vote. That’s a 13-percentage-point increase over the last two years.
When asked about the presidential race and reaching agreement with members of the other party in Congress, Americans gave higher marks to Obama. Forty-three percent said he would do a better job reaching agreement with the other party, versus 33 percent for Romney.
Cleavages along racial and party lines were gaping on this question. Non-Hispanic blacks were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to give a thumbs-up to Obama for being best at finding agreement with the other party. And a whopping 79 percent of Democrats saw Obama as better able to work across the aisle, while 73 percent of Republicans said the same for Romney. Independents split just beyond the poll’s margin of error, with 36 percent of them saying Obama would do better versus 32 percent for Romney.
The results of the survey don’t bode particularly well for incumbents. Only 14 percent of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for an “incumbent running for reelection.” That’s the same level of anti-incumbent sentiment as two years ago, when voters ended Democratic control of the House.
Unlike 2010, however, there’s slightly less interest in electing political neophytes. Back then, 24 percent of voters said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who “has never held elective office.” That’s down to 19 percent in the latest survey, with a majority—51 percent—saying previous officeholding experience made no difference.
Does a newfound appetite for candidates who compromise benefit either Democrats or Republicans in Congress who vow to help implement their presidential nominee’s agenda? The answers are decidedly mixed. Those polled were asked if they would be more likely to support a congressional candidate who supported Obama or Romney “most of the time.” Just 28 percent of voters said they would be more inclined to back a candidate who would vote in support of Obama. That’s down a tick from earlier this year, when 30 percent of voters said that might make them more likely to vote for a congressional candidate.
Romney came in even lower, with only 18 percent of those surveyed saying that if a congressional candidate vowed to back a hypothetical President Romney’s position most of the time, they would be inclined to vote for such a candidate. Larger pluralities said that it wouldn’t matter.
The Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,001 adults by landline and cell phone on July 19-22. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The poll is taken most weeks of the year when Congress is in session and is designed to give lawmakers—as well as other policymakers and the public—an in-depth look at where Americans stand on the most important issues that are facing Congress.
Digging deep into the survey results reveals a polarized electorate. On the question of whether they’d be more likely to support a congressional candidate who backed Obama most of the time, only 3 percent of Republicans felt that way, while only 5 percent of Republicans were more favorably inclined toward a congressional candidate who promised to side with Romney on issues most of the time. Among a group that has proved problematic for Democrats—white men without a college education—35 percent said that they would be less inclined to back a congressional candidate who supported Obama. Independents were less likely to back a congressional candidate who supported Obama than one who carried the flag for Romney.
When 80 percent of those polled say that the two parties have “been bickering and opposing one another more than usual,” that’s a difficult environment for either party to run in, especially when 52 percent say that “there have been good ideas” but fights between the parties have “blocked needed government action.”
On the other hand, the poll gives politicians breathing room to compromise—a particularly important gift to members as the August recess approaches and the lame-duck session of Congress looms.
This article appears in the July 25, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.