Public Doubts Congress Can Get Jobs Policy Done

Steven Shepard
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Steven Shepard
April 16, 2012, 5:30 p.m.

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.

Lar­ger ver­sion

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. 

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