The two parties are portraying the stalemate over the federal budget and health reform as a titanic clash of principle, but a plurality of Americans believes that causing political problems for President Obama is now the GOP's top priority in Washington, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.
Respondents didn't view Washington Democrats' motivations quite so cynically, but even so, when the poll asked the public to rank that party's priorities, causing problems for congressional Republicans finished second, only behind reducing health care costs.
Meanwhile, as polls still consistently show that creating jobs remains task one for most Americans, only about one in seven adults in the United Technologies/Congressional Connection survey identified it as the highest priority for either party in Washington.
The poll identified six policy and political goals and asked respondents which they considered the highest, and second-highest, priority for each party in Washington. The results showed that independents, in particular, see the parties diverging on most of their goals--but sharing a lack of attention to the slow pace of job creation.
In another sign that this year's relentless cascade of confrontations was denting the Republican Party image, 32 percent said the GOP's highest priority was "causing political problems for President Obama." By contrast, 19 percent said Democrats' highest priority was "causing political problems for Republicans in Congress."
The difference was explained partly because Democrats were more likely to see political gain as the GOP's top goal than vice versa. (Exactly half of Democrats said the GOP was focused primarily on causing problems for their party, while only 34 percent of Republicans tagged that as the highest priority for Washington Democrats.) But more independents saw Republicans (31 percent) than Democrats (22 percent) motivated primarily by causing political difficulties for the other side.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,005 adults by landline and cell phone from Sept. 25-29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The survey was completed just before the stalemate between the parties tipped the government into shutdown Monday night.
After causing problems for Obama, respondents ranked the GOP's priorities as reducing government debt (20 percent); creating more jobs (14 percent); reducing health care costs (13 percent); fixing the immigration system (6 percent); and reducing gun violence (4 percent).
Among partisan Republicans, one-third identified debt reduction as the party's top priority, followed by reducing health care costs and creating more jobs (both around one-sixth) and causing problems for Obama (at about one-seventh.) The largest group of independents identified wounding Obama as the GOP's top priority, followed by reducing the debt, fixing immigration, and creating more jobs, each clustered at around one in six. Democrats overwhelmingly identified causing problems for Obama as the GOP's priority; one in seven saw Republicans as being most focused on reducing the debt, while one in 10 picked creating jobs.
As for the Democrats' priorities, 24 percent put reducing health care costs at the top of the list, followed by causing problems for the GOP (19 percent); creating more jobs (14 percent); reducing gun violence (12 percent); reducing government debt (10 percent); and fixing the immigration system (6 percent).
Most Democrats identified their party's top priority as reducing health care costs (35 percent), followed by creating jobs (22 percent). Independents split about evenly between those who thought the Democrats top priority was reducing health care costs (23 percent) and creating difficulty for Republicans (22 percent). And while about one-third of Republicans thought Democrats were most focused on undermining the other party, even one-sixth of them named controlling health care costs as their rival's top priority.
On each side, the picture alters only slightly when adding the issues respondents saw as the second-highest priority for the party as well. In that measure, 41 percent saw causing problems for Obama as either the top or second-highest priority for the GOP, followed by reducing debt (40 percent) and creating more jobs (31 percent). With Democrats, reducing health care costs retained the top spot (at 39 percent) as the first or second priority, followed by creating more jobs (32 percent). On this measure, reducing gun violence jumped into third place, followed closely by causing problems for Republicans.
One finding that might cause problems for both parties was how few respondents, of any partisan or demographic slice, saw either's principal focus as creating jobs--even with unemployment stubbornly hovering over 7 percent. Not many Democrats (roughly one-fifth) or Republicans (about one-sixth) viewed that as their own party's top priority.
Even core constituencies on each side didn't see much emphasis placed on that enduring problem. Only about one in nine young adults younger than 30, and just under one in five minorities, saw job creation as the Democrats' top priority. Similarly, job creation was named as the GOP's top priority by only about one in seven whites without a college education, and one in nine white seniors. The confrontations looming this month over funding the federal government and raising the public debt is only likely to deepen the sense that Washington's priorities lie elsewhere.