May 22, 2002

Democrats Less Pleased with Party’s Performance

Satisfaction with National Conditions Slumps

Survey Findings

A year after Democrats took control of the Senate, the party’s rank-and-file give Democratic congressional leaders lower marks for performance than GOP adherents give their leadership. While 64% of Democrats approve of their leaders’ job performance, 80% of Republicans have a positive view of the job GOP leaders are doing. Consequently, the Democratic leaders’ net approval rating of 42%-37% lags well behind the Republican leaders’ mark (49%-34%).

Perhaps more significant, barely half of Democrats (51%) say the party is doing an excellent or good job of standing up for such core principles as representing the interests of working people, protecting minorities and helping the poor. By comparison, 61% of Republicans say their party is doing an excellent or good job of standing up for its core principles, such as reducing the size of government, cutting taxes and promoting conservative social values.

As the battle for control of Capitol Hill intensifies, neither party has been able to gain a significant edge in the congressional ballot test. A recent Bloomberg News survey, conducted in early May, showed the Democrats with a slight 38%-34% advantage. Still, the proportion of Democrats who disapprove of the way party leaders are doing their jobs has increased from 11% to 22% since last June, shortly after Sen. Jim Jeffords’ defection from the GOP gave Democrats control of the Senate. The disapproval rate among GOP adherents for their leaders has not changed (13%).

The new Pew Research Center nationwide survey of 1,002 adults, conducted May 6-16, also finds that as many as one-third of Democrats believe the party’s leaders are speaking out too little in response to President Bush’s policies. That number rises to 46% among Democrats who express general disapproval of the job Democratic leaders in Congress are doing.

The survey also reveals declining public satisfaction with national conditions. Just 44% of the respondents say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, marking the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks that this measure has fallen below 50% in a Pew Research Center survey. Discontent with national conditions has increased especially among women and older Americans, returning to pre-9/11 levels among these groups. Dissatisfaction among those age 65 and older exceeds satisfaction by two-to-one (56% dissatisfied, 28% satisfied). Men and younger Americans remain more pleased with the state of the nation today than before the attacks.

While the public is less satisfied with the direction of the country, they look more favorably on the way the two parties are working together in Washington. More than four-in-ten (44%) think Democrats and Republicans are cooperating more than usual, compared with 31% who see a higher level of partisan bickering. In July 2001, the balance of public opinion was just the opposite ­ 30% saw the parties working together more, while 46% said partisan skirmishing was on the upswing.

The Republican party continues to inspire much more confidence than the Democrats on major international issues ­ the war against terrorists and the conflict in the Mideast. When it comes to the war on terrorism, a sizable number of Democrats think the Republicans have better ideas than their own party. However, the Democratic party is given a greater vote of confidence on top domestic issues such as providing a prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program and ­ by a much narrower margin ­ on taking steps to make the Social Security system financially sound. There is a high degree of partisan division on these issues, especially with regard to which party can best strengthen Social Security.

By more than two-to-one, independents think the Republicans can better handle terrorism and the problems in the Middle East. Independents favor Democrats on the prescription drug issue by two-to-one (37%-18%), while they split fairly evenly in assessing which party is better able to put the Social Security system on sound financial footing.