CONGRESS

Poll Finds Voters Wary of Congressional GOP

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, at the Apollo Theatre in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
National Journal
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Steven Shepard
Jan. 23, 2012, 4:30 p.m.

Amer­ic­ans are los­ing faith in con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans, ac­cord­ing to a new United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll that un­der­scores Pres­id­ent Obama’s strategy as he presents his pri­or­it­ies on Tues­day night in his an­nu­al State of the Uni­on ad­dress and pre­pares to mount his reelec­tion cam­paign.

And there is some evid­ence that the strategy is work­ing: More voters polled say they would rather see Obama reelec­ted over a Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ent — and Demo­crats win con­trol of the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives — in Novem­ber.

On the cent­ral is­sues be­fore Con­gress this year and voters this Novem­ber, Obama has moved ahead of Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­lat­ors over the past four months, ac­cord­ing to the poll. Asked to choose whom they trus­ted more between Obama and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans “to de­vel­op solu­tions to the coun­try’s eco­nom­ic chal­lenges,” 41 per­cent pre­ferred Obama and 29 per­cent picked the Hill GOP. More than 20 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said they trust neither Obama nor the GOP, however.

Amer­ic­ans were split in a Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll con­duc­ted last Septem­ber, with 37 per­cent say­ing they trus­ted Obama more and 35 per­cent choos­ing the Re­pub­lic­ans.

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll was con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, which sur­veyed 1,002 adults by land­line and cel­lu­lar phone Jan. 19-22. The poll has a mar­gin of er­ror of +/- 3.6 per­cent­age points. The mar­gin of er­ror for the sub­sample of 773 re­gistered voters is +/- 4.1 points.

The poll is the latest in a series of na­tion­al sur­veys that will track the pub­lic’s pri­or­it­ies for Con­gress — and its as­sess­ment of Wash­ing­ton’s per­form­ance — dur­ing most weeks that Con­gress is in ses­sion this year.

Amer­ic­ans have also shif­ted on whom they trust more “to make the right de­cisions about how to re­duce the fed­er­al budget de­fi­cit,” with 42 per­cent back­ing Obama and 33 per­cent pick­ing con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans. A quarter of re­spond­ents said that they trus­ted neither or were un­de­cided. Last Septem­ber, Amer­ic­ans nar­rowly pre­ferred GOP law­makers to Obama, 38 per­cent to 36 per­cent.

The drop in trust in con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans on the eco­nomy and the de­fi­cit re­flects an over­all col­lapse in con­fid­ence in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. Only 31 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say they have “a lot” or “some” con­fid­ence that the gov­ern­ment “will make pro­gress over the next year on the most im­port­ant prob­lems fa­cing the coun­try,” while two-thirds say they do not have “much con­fid­ence” or have “no con­fid­ence at all.”

The res­ults are sim­il­ar to those from a Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll con­duc­ted last month that also por­ten­ded an­oth­er volat­ile elec­tion for the na­tion as Amer­ic­ans re­main pess­im­ist­ic about their gov­ern­ment’s ca­pa­city to work to­geth­er to re­vive a U.S. eco­nomy that’s been battered by re­ces­sion and the fin­an­cial crisis.

Mean­while, Obama and Demo­crats have made sig­ni­fic­ant gains in their elec­tion pro­spects this year among re­gistered voters, the poll shows.

Forty-eight per­cent of voters would rather see Obama reelec­ted next year, com­pared to 40 per­cent who would prefer that a Re­pub­lic­an win the pres­id­ency; a com­bined 12 per­cent of voters said they would prefer neither scen­ario or are un­de­cided. A Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll con­duc­ted in late Oc­to­ber found voters split, with 44 per­cent pre­fer­ring the GOP can­did­ate and 42 per­cent fa­vor­ing Obama’s reelec­tion.

A plur­al­ity of voters, 48 per­cent, now say they would prefer that Demo­crats win enough seats take con­trol of the House, com­pared with 37 per­cent who would rather see Re­pub­lic­ans main­tain con­trol. In late Oc­to­ber, the two parties were vir­tu­ally tied on that ques­tion, with Demo­crats hold­ing a stat­ist­ic­ally in­sig­ni­fic­ant 2-point ad­vant­age.

Com­bin­ing the res­ults, 39 per­cent of voters would prefer that Obama is reelec­ted and Demo­crats win con­trol of the House; 31 per­cent want a Re­pub­lic­an to win the pres­id­ency and the GOP to keep the House; 5 per­cent would rather have a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent but a Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled House; and 3 per­cent of voters want the cur­rent oc­cu­pants to re­tain con­trol of both the White House and House.

The poll shows Demo­crats per­form­ing bet­ter among in­de­pend­ent voters. Obama leads among this key group by 5 points, and in­de­pend­ents pre­ferred a Demo­crat­ic-con­trolled House by an 8-point mar­gin.

But Obama still trails by 11 per­cent among white voters — equal­ing his per­form­ance among this group in the pre­vi­ous poll and in line with his mar­gin of de­feat among whites in 2008, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. The pres­id­ent has gained in sup­port among non­white voters, three-quar­ters of whom would now rather see him win reelec­tion. Last Oc­to­ber, just 60 per­cent of all non­white voters said they pre­ferred his reelec­tion.

Obama is ex­pec­ted to use Tues­day night’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress to fo­cus on is­sues af­fect­ing the middle class, cast­ing the GOP as the party of the wealth­i­est Amer­ic­ans. He runs strongest among low- and middle-in­come voters, ac­cord­ing to the new poll, with 54 per­cent of those mak­ing less than $30,000 a year and 53 per­cent of those mak­ing between $30,000 and $75,000 a year fa­vor­ing his reelec­tion. Mean­while 47 per­cent of voters mak­ing more than $75,000 a year would rather a Re­pub­lic­an win the pres­id­ency, com­pared with 42 per­cent who prefer Obama be reelec­ted.

Obama’s ad­dress be­fore a joint ses­sion of Con­gress also comes amid the back­drop of a re­shuffled race for the GOP’s pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion. Former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich’s rout of former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney in South Car­o­lina last week could lead to a long, pro­trac­ted fight, which would al­low the White House to main­tain its fire on in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans through early spring.

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