January 14, 2010

Obama Image Unscathed By Terrorism Controversy

Section 4: Congress and Politics

As 2010 begins, Americans are divided about whether they are more likely to vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in the midterm congressional elections in November. The public gives relatively poor ratings to the leaders of both parties in Congress and only one-quarter say Obama and GOP leaders in Congress are working together to address the issues facing the nation. Meanwhile, a majority of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters (55%) want their party’s leaders to move in a more conservative direction rather than a more moderate direction. By contrast, most Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters (56%) think their party’s leaders should move in a more moderate direction rather than take a more liberal approach.

On the generic ballot, 46% of registered voters say if the election were held today they would vote for a Democrat in their district or lean toward the Democratic candidate; 44% say they would vote for the GOP candidate or lean Republican. That is little changed from November, when 47% said they were likely to vote for the Democratic candidate and 42% said they were likely to vote for the Republican.

A greater percentage of independents say they expect to vote for the Republican candidate in their home district than for the Democratic candidate (45% vs. 35%). Not surprisingly, more than nine-in-ten Republicans (94%) and Democrats (91%) say they plan to vote for the candidate of their party in the midterm elections.

Just before the last midterm elections in November 2006, close to half of registered voters (48%) said they were likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district, while 40% said they were likely to vote for the Republican candidate. Democrats held about a 10-point edge through much of that year.

Poor Ratings for Congressional Leaders

Slightly more than a third of the public (35%) approves of the job that Democratic congressional leaders are doing while 53% disapprove. Republican congressional leaders get even lower ratings: 27% approve of their job performance while 57% disapprove.

While opinions of both parties’ congressional leaders have changed little over the past few months, the ratings for Democratic leaders are substantially lower than they were early last year. In February and March of 2009, nearly half of Americans approved of their job performance (48% February, 47% March). Ratings for Republican leaders have shown less change over the past year.

While about two-thirds of Democrats (65%) approve of the performance of their party’s leaders, Republicans are much more critical of their leaders. Fewer than half of Republicans (47%) say they approve of the GOP leaders’ performance in Congress, while 41% say they disapprove.

Independents are about equally critical of the job being done by both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress. A quarter (25%) of independents say they approve of the performance of Democratic leaders, while 22% approve of the job being done by GOP leaders. These numbers have changed little in recent months.

Early in 2009, independents were more likely to approve of the performance of Democratic leaders than Republican leaders, but Democrats had lost that edge by October. Independents have consistently given Republican leaders low ratings since early in 2009.

Few See GOP Leaders and Obama Working Together

Fully two-thirds (67%) of Americans now say Obama and Republican leaders in Congress are not working together to deal with important issues facing the country, while just 25% see the two sides cooperating. The current numbers reflect virtually no change from August when 63% said that Obama and GOP leaders were not working together.

Republican leaders in Congress continue to take more of the blame for the sense that the two sides are not working together. About a third of the public (32%) says Republican leaders are most to blame, while 19% say Obama is most to blame. Those numbers also have changed little since August 2009.

Among partisans, Republicans are more likely to say that GOP leaders and the president are not working together (81%) than Democrats (58%) or independents (69%). More than four-in-ten Republicans (43%) say Obama is most to blame for this, while 13% say GOP leaders deserve most of the blame.

Half of Democrats say Republican leaders are mostly responsible, while just 3% say Obama is to blame. Among independents, 31% say Republican congressional leaders are mostly to blame for the lack of cooperation, while 19% say Obama is mostly to blame.

Republicans Say Leaders Should Be More Conservative

More than half (55%) of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they think the party’s leaders in Washington should move in a more conservative direction. That is about the same as the 60% of Republican voters that wanted their leaders to take a more conservative course just after the 2008 presidential election.

Just under four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (38%) say party leaders should move in a more moderate direction, again about the same as the 35% of GOP voters who said this just after the 2008 elections.

Not surprisingly, 75% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters who describe themselves as conservative want to see leaders move in a more conservative direction; just 20% say they should move in a more moderate direction. By contrast, 68% of moderate and liberal GOP voters say party leaders should move in a more moderate direction, while 22% say they should become more conservative.

Meanwhile, most Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters (56%) say they think their party’s leaders should move in a more moderate direction, which is about the same as the percentage of Democratic voters who said this after Obama’s 2008 win (57%). In both surveys, one-third (33%) said Democratic leaders should move in a more liberal direction.

A majority (55%) of liberal Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters say the party’s leaders should move in a more liberal direction, while 34% say more moderate. This is unchanged from November 2008. Most Democrats describe their ideology as conservative or moderate, and 69% of this group says the party should move in a more moderate direction; 23% say more liberal. The percentages also are not significantly different from just after the 2008 elections.