Most Americans think it is very important for Congress to address the nation’s job situation and reduce the federal budget deficit over the next year, but they remain pessimistic that President Obama and the legislative branch will agree on those issues, according to a new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll that also reveals a pervading and continuing distrust of Washington since last summer’s debt-ceiling debacle.
Although jobs and the deficit are the public’s two top priorities, the poll also shows that a clear majority would prefer that Obama and Congress agree to a plan to create more jobs, and Americans are more optimistic that the two branches will find agreement on that issue.
But overall, the poll shows little confidence in the government’s ability to make progress on the most important problems facing the country. The public has less faith in Washington than it did before last summer’s debate over raising the federal debt limit, although its confidence in government has rebounded slightly since this winter’s payroll-tax showdown.
This iteration of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,002 adults from April 12 to 15. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 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 this year.
Seventy-nine percent of respondents said that it was “very important” for Congress to address the job situation over the next year, the highest-scoring issue among the five tested. The focus on jobs crosses partisan lines, with 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Republicans, and 76 percent of independents ranking the job situation as “very important.”
Respondents were slightly more divided over the importance of reducing the federal deficit. Overall, 73 percent said it was “very important,” but Republicans (85 percent) were significantly more likely than Democrats (65 percent) to rank this issue highly.
Asked to choose between jobs and the deficit, 64 percent said they would most like to see Obama and Congress agree on a plan to create more jobs, while only 31 percent would prefer a plan to reduce the deficit. Majorities of Democrats (78 percent) and independents (60 percent) chose job creation, while Republicans were split evenly: 50 percent for a job-creation plan and 47 percent for debt reduction.
Among the other three issues tested, addressing the country’s energy needs scored highest, with 64 percent—including equal percentages of Democrats, Republicans, and independents—saying it is “very important.”
Less than half of those surveyed ranked the other two issues tested—repealing the 2010 health care law and addressing the nation’s immigration policy—as “very important.” Those tended to be higher priorities for Republicans in the poll than for Democrats and independents.
But Americans are pessimistic that Congress and the president will agree on their priorities, with Republicans significantly more cynical than Democrats and independents, the poll shows. On the issue of jobs, just 19 percent think it is “very likely” that Obama and Capitol Hill will agree on legislation; a quarter of Democrats and 1-in-5 independents think it is very likely, but only 7 percent of Republicans agree. A sizable percentage, 56 percent, thinks it is at least somewhat likely that the two sides can agree on jobs legislation, however.
Regarding the deficit, poll respondents were less optimistic about an agreement. Just 10 percent considered it “very likely,” and just 27 percent rated it as “somewhat likely.” Again, Republicans remain most pessimistic: While half of Democrats think it is at least somewhat likely, only 22 percent of Republicans agree.
On energy, respondents were split on whether the president and Congress will agree on legislation: 49 percent think it is at least somewhat likely, but 48 percent rate it “not too likely” or “not at all likely.” On this issue, Republicans were less optimistic, with only 38 percent saying it is at least somewhat likely, compared with 58 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents.
Overall, respondents—particularly Republicans and independents—lack confidence in the federal government “to make progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country,” mirroring the overall drop in confidence in many of the nation’s institutions. Only 5 percent overall say they have “a lot of confidence” in the government, while 29 percent have “some confidence,” 35 percent do not have much confidence, and 29 percent have “no confidence at all.” Forty-eight percent of Democrats have “a lot” or “some” confidence, while 79 percent of Republicans have “not much” or no confidence. Just a quarter of independents have at least some confidence in government, and 72 percent have “not much” or no confidence.
The percentage of Americans who have at least some confidence in the government were markedly lower in Congressional Connection Polls conducted after the debt-ceiling debate last summer. During the heat of the fight, in late July, 42 percent said they had at least some confidence in the government. That figure fell to 29 percent last December, during the showdown over extending the payroll-tax cut. It has risen slightly to 34 percent now, but it remains lower than before the debt-limit confrontation.
With numbers so low going into the general-election season, members of both parties have reason to be concerned that their messages aren’t resonating with the public. Although the GOP and Democrats have policies that have won support—such as the Keystone XL pipeline for Republicans and elevating taxes on the wealthy for Democrats—neither party has been able to put forward a vision that carries wide sway.
This article appears in the April 17, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.