Public Opinion Could Lead to Further Gridlock


Shane Goldmacher
April 23, 2012, 5:35 p.m.

Amer­ic­ans are fed up with Con­gress and a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment per­petu­ally frozen in con­flict, but voters re­main sharply split over how to ease the grid­lock in the na­tion’s cap­it­al, ac­cord­ing to a new United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

Even after more than a year of poin­ted dis­agree­ments between Pres­id­ent Obama and House Re­pub­lic­ans, a nar­row plur­al­ity of voters said that Wash­ing­ton is “more likely to make pro­gress” on the ma­jor is­sues fa­cing the coun­try if it has a di­vided gov­ern­ment after the 2012 elec­tions.

Both parties are furi­ously try­ing to sell their vis­ion to the na­tion, but wary voters, after three con­sec­ut­ive wave elec­tions that saw at least 20 House seats change party hands, don’t ap­pear ready to grant either side an un­equi­voc­al man­date.

The last such man­date, handed to Demo­crats and Obama in 2008, las­ted only two years. By 2010, the polit­ic­al pen­du­lum had swung back to the right, as House Demo­crats lost more than 60 seats to Re­pub­lic­ans. Nearly two years later, voters re­main un­happy with the res­ults. Three in four of those sur­veyed said that “it’s time to give new people a chance” to serve in Con­gress.

The latest sur­vey sug­gests a polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment that slightly fa­vors the Demo­crats. A ma­jor­ity of voters polled, 50 per­cent, said they pre­ferred that Demo­crats keep hold of the Sen­ate, com­pared with 39 per­cent who wanted a GOP takeover.

On the House side, a slim plur­al­ity, 46 per­cent, said they hoped that Demo­crats would win the 25 seats they need to take back con­trol, while 43 per­cent said they pre­ferred that Re­pub­lic­ans main­tain power. That 3-point ad­vant­age, however, is down from an 11-point edge that Demo­crats held in a Janu­ary poll.

Wo­men and minor­it­ies are the key con­stitu­en­cies in the Demo­crat­ic co­ali­tion to re­take the House, ac­cord­ing to the United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll. White voters pre­ferred to main­tain the Re­pub­lic­an-held House, but 66 per­cent of minor­it­ies wanted to put the Demo­crats in charge, com­pared with just 26 per­cent who were sat­is­fied with the GOP.

Men in the sur­vey, mean­while, favored GOP con­trol of the House by 47 per­cent to 40 per­cent. Wo­men, however, wanted to see a Demo­crat­ic takeover by 50 per­cent to 39 per­cent, provid­ing the mar­gin of ad­vant­age. A sim­il­ar gender gap fa­vor­ing Demo­crats has emerged in oth­er na­tion­al polls, as the party has tried to score polit­ic­al points over what lead­ers have called a Re­pub­lic­an “war on wo­men.”

Still, no party held a defin­it­ive ad­vant­age in the sur­vey. In fact, one-third of re­spond­ents said that more pro­gress on the biggest is­sues would come if neither Demo­crats nor Re­pub­lic­ans had full rein in the na­tion’s cap­it­al. Only 25 per­cent thought that pro­gress would be more likely with com­plete GOP con­trol, and just 28 per­cent thought put­ting Demo­crats fully in charge would help end the grid­lock.

The latest edi­tion of the poll was con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, which sur­veyed 1,004 adults by land­line and cell phone on April 19 -22. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of +/- 3.7 per­cent­age points.

Sup­port for law­makers run­ning for reelec­tion has man­aged to crawl out of the single di­gits. But that im­prove­ment since late 2011 is more a test­a­ment to how far out of fa­vor Con­gress has fallen than to any ser­i­ous growth in sup­port. Now, 13 per­cent of re­gistered voters said that most mem­bers “have done a good enough job” to get reelec­ted. A sol­id 77 per­cent said that it’s “time to give new people a chance.”

Dis­sat­is­fac­tion is wide­spread — it is true in cit­ies, the sub­urbs, and rur­al areas, ac­cord­ing to the poll. At least 70 per­cent of every age group, edu­ca­tion level, and in­come level said that it’s time for new blood. And the feel­ing is shared among Demo­crats, Re­pub­lic­ans, and in­de­pend­ents.

But des­pite this per­vas­ive un­hap­pi­ness, sur­vey re­spond­ents don’t ap­pear pre­pared to un­seat law­makers en masse. Mir­ror­ing a his­tor­ic­al trend, voters looked more fa­vor­ably on their own mem­bers of Con­gress than on Con­gress as a whole.

Thirty-eight per­cent said that their rep­res­ent­at­ive de­served an­oth­er term, a 4-point jump since Decem­ber (al­beit to only 38 per­cent). In­cum­bency was more a mixed bag than an al­batross in the poll as well.

More than half of those sur­veyed, 56 per­cent, said it made no dif­fer­ence wheth­er a can­did­ate was an in­cum­bent, an in­crease of 5 points since May 2010. Only 21 per­cent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for an in­cum­bent; 14 per­cent said an in­cum­bent was more likely to get their vote.
First-time of­fice-seekers held no great ap­peal, either. Twenty-three per­cent of those sur­veyed said that a can­did­ate with no elect­ive ex­per­i­ence was more likely to get their vote. But 21 per­cent said that such a can­did­ate would be less likely to re­ceive their sup­port.

That mixed sen­ti­ment on in­cum­bency has been borne out in the first wave of House primar­ies across the coun­try. So far only one in­cum­bent, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, has lost to a nonin­cum­bent chal­lenger. And Schmidt did not take her op­pon­ent ser­i­ously, dodging de­bates and spend­ing part of Elec­tion Day in Wash­ing­ton in­stead of her dis­trict. Those in­cum­bents who have girded for battle, not­ably Rep. Spen­cer Bachus, R-Ala., who faced down a tea party chal­lenger, eth­ics al­leg­a­tions, and a free-spend­ing anti-in­cum­bent su­per PAC, have sur­vived.

More tests come on Tues­day in Pennsylvania, where Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Tim Murphy and Demo­crat­ic Rep. Tim Hold­en face primary chal­lengers — al­though Hold­en’s has been wrought as much by re­dis­trict­ing map­makers as anti-in­cum­bent fer­vor.

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
3 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
3 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
3 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
3 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
2 days ago

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.