Poll Shows Tough Landscape for Incumbents

Matthew Cooper
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Matthew Cooper
July 24, 2012, 5:20 p.m.

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.

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