Public to Congress: Bend, Don’t Break

A Capitol Hill police officer stands guard outside during a visit by President Barack Obama to the House Democratic Caucus retreat at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)  
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Ronald Brownstein
July 23, 2012, 5:30 p.m.

Most Amer­ic­ans see con­flict between the parties as the cent­ral reas­on Wash­ing­ton has not pro­duced a more pro­duct­ive re­sponse to the per­sist­ent eco­nom­ic slow­down, but re­main pess­im­ist­ic that the two sides will reach ef­fect­ive agree­ments more of­ten after the Novem­ber elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

When it comes to com­prom­ise in Con­gress, it ap­pears that ab­sence has made Amer­ic­ans’ hearts grow fonder: Com­pared with 2010, the sur­vey found a not­able up­tick in the share of Amer­ic­ans who said they prefer polit­ic­al lead­ers who “make com­prom­ises with people they dis­agree with” over those who “stick to their po­s­i­tions without com­prom­ising.”

But the sur­vey found that the pub­lic re­mains du­bi­ous that Con­gress will heed that ad­vice: Only 27 per­cent of those polled said they be­lieved that after the 2012 elec­tion “the two parties will come to­geth­er more than they have in re­cent years to try to solve the most im­port­ant prob­lems fa­cing the na­tion.” A re­sound­ing 63 per­cent in­stead pre­dicted that “the two parties will mostly dis­agree and reach stale­mate on the most im­port­ant prob­lems fa­cing the na­tion, as they of­ten have in re­cent years.”

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al 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 sur­vey found that in a coun­try deeply di­vided on al­most all polit­ic­al ques­tions, Amer­ic­ans across ra­cial, class, and par­tis­an lines over­whelm­ingly agree that this Con­gress has ar­gued more, and ac­com­plished less, than usu­al.

In re­sponse to a long-term trend ques­tion, fully 80 per­cent of those polled said that this year Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats have “been bick­er­ing and op­pos­ing one an­oth­er more than usu­al.” Since that ques­tion has been asked in Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion and Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­veys go­ing back to 1998, only at the height of last sum­mer’s debt-ceil­ing stan­doff has a high­er per­cent­age said that Con­gress was bick­er­ing more than usu­al. Just 8 per­cent of those polled in the new sur­vey said that Con­gress this year has been “work­ing to­geth­er more to solve prob­lems.” Only once be­fore (in Decem­ber 2011) has Con­gress scored lower on that meas­ure.

Like­wise, on an­oth­er long-term trend ques­tion, just 8 per­cent said that “this Con­gress has ac­com­plished more” than usu­al; 40 per­cent said that it has ac­com­plished about the same as usu­al; and 47 per­cent said it has ac­com­plished less. Again, in res­ults dat­ing back to 1998, only in Decem­ber 2011 has a high­er per­cent­age said that Con­gress had ac­com­plished less than usu­al.

The be­lief that this Con­gress has bickered more than usu­al is shared by roughly four-fifths of whites and non­whites; Re­pub­lic­ans, Demo­crats and in­de­pend­ents; whites with and without col­lege edu­ca­tions; and adults at all in­come levels. The con­ver­gence wasn’t quite so pro­found on Con­gress’s per­form­ance, but still just less than half of Demo­crats and in­de­pend­ents, and just more than half of Re­pub­lic­ans, agreed that its per­form­ance has lagged.

Most Amer­ic­ans con­tin­ue to see the par­tis­an stale­mate as a key con­trib­ut­or to the on­go­ing eco­nom­ic dis­tress, ac­cord­ing to the poll. An­oth­er ques­tion noted that “over the past few years, Wash­ing­ton lead­ers have tried to ad­dress the prob­lem of high un­em­ploy­ment, without much suc­cess” and asked re­spond­ents why that is so. About one-sixth re­spon­ded that Wash­ing­ton hadn’t made a great­er dent on the prob­lem mostly be­cause “neither Demo­crats nor Re­pub­lic­ans in Wash­ing­ton have come up with any good ideas to re­duce un­em­ploy­ment so far.” Just un­der one-fourth of re­spond­ents said the prob­lem is that “there is not much Wash­ing­ton lead­ers can do to re­duce un­em­ploy­ment through policy or le­gis­la­tion.” A 52 per­cent ma­jor­ity agreed that “there have been good ideas, but fight­ing between Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans has blocked needed gov­ern­ment ac­tion.”

That sen­ti­ment also drew broad agree­ment, with one big ex­cep­tion. While 65 per­cent of Demo­crats mostly blamed par­tis­an con­flict for the lack of ef­fect­ive ac­tion, 49 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents and just 45 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans agreed; nearly 30 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans said that Wash­ing­ton simply can’t do much to im­prove the em­ploy­ment situ­ation.

These di­vi­sions blurred again on the ques­tion about ex­pect­a­tions of Con­gress’s be­ha­vi­or after the elec­tion. More than three-fifths of both non­whites and whites pre­dicted the dead­lock between the parties would con­tin­ue in­to 2013. So did more than two-thirds of in­de­pend­ents and Demo­crats and nearly three-fifths of Re­pub­lic­ans.

For many Amer­ic­ans, that’s clearly an omin­ous pro­spect. A nar­row 52 per­cent ma­jor­ity of those sur­veyed said they most ad­mire polit­ic­al lead­ers who com­prom­ise “with people they dis­agree with.” That’s a marked in­crease from Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion polls in both Septem­ber and Novem­ber 2010, when only 42 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they most ad­mired polit­ic­al lead­ers who stress com­prom­ise.

In each of those 2010 sur­veys, a plur­al­ity (49 per­cent in Septem­ber and 45 per­cent in Novem­ber) said they most ad­mired lead­ers who stick to their po­s­i­tions without com­prom­ising. But in the new poll, just 38 per­cent said they most ad­mired lead­ers who don’t com­prom­ise.

Rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­ans re­main some­what less likely to fa­vor lead­ers who com­prom­ise than do Demo­crats or in­de­pend­ents. But since the Septem­ber 2010 poll, Re­pub­lic­ans have moved more than the oth­er two groups to­ward priz­ing com­prom­ise. In the new poll, 48 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans said they most ad­mired lead­ers who com­prom­ise (com­pared with 45 per­cent who prefer those who don’t.) That’s a sharp shift from Septem­ber 2010, when just 33 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans said they ad­mired lead­ers who com­prom­ise, and 62 per­cent ad­mired those who did not.

Among Demo­crats, 62 per­cent now say they most ad­mire lead­ers who com­prom­ise (up more mod­estly from 54 per­cent in 2010). Among in­de­pend­ents, 51 per­cent now fa­vor lead­ers who com­prom­ise (up from 40 per­cent in 2010).


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.