February 12, 2010

Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties

Section 5: Health Care, Gays in the Military, Supreme Court

Opposition to Current Health Bills; But Desire for Legislation

More Americans continue to oppose (50%) than favor (38%) the health care bills currently being discussed in Congress. Opposition to health care legislation has been relatively stable in recent months, with opponents outnumbering supporters by similar margins in five of the last six Pew Research surveys since October. However, the current polls finds that almost half of the people who oppose the health care bills being discussed in Congress – 23% of Americans overall – say they would like to see Congress keep working on a health care bill. About a quarter of Americans (26%) oppose the current bills and want Congress to pass nothing, leaving the current system as it is.

As has consistently been the case, there are stark divisions between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to health care legislation. By a 79%-14% margin Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the current legislation in Congress, while Democrats favor it by a 65% to 24% margin. Among independents, more oppose (54%) than favor (33%) the bills being discussed in Congress. The balance of opinion within all three partisan groups is virtually unchanged in recent months.

Nonetheless, significant percentages of Republicans (34%) and independents (24%) say that while they oppose the current legislation, they would prefer to see Congress keep working on a health care bill than do nothing. A 44% plurality of Republicans say they would prefer to see Congress pass nothing and leave the current system as it is. Far fewer independents (28%) take this view, as do just 8% of Democrats.

Most Favor Gays Serving Openly

By a two-to-one margin, more Americans favor than oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military. Currently, 61% favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, while 27% are opposed. There has been a modest drop in opposition over the past year. In March 2009 and two earlier polls, 32% of Americans opposed allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. The current survey was conducted in the week following a congressional hearing in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced support for Obama’s call to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Older Americans continue to express less support for gays serving openly than do younger age groups. Nonetheless, a plurality (46%) of those 65 and older favor the change in policy, while 34% are opposed. Younger Americans remain strongly in favor, with 71% of 18-29-year-olds in support of gays serving openly and just 21% opposed.

Roughly two-thirds of both Democrat
s (67%) and independents (65%) support allowing gays to serve openly in the military, with just under a quarter in both groups opposed. Nearly half (47%) of Republicans also say they are in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while 41% are opposed. These figures are largely unchanged from previous polls in 2009 and 2006. In March of last year, Republicans were also split evenly on this issue (45% favor, 48% oppose) and this was the case in March of 2006 as well (46% favor, 46% oppose).

Ideology is a substantial factor within the Republican Party. Moderate and liberal Republicans support this policy by a 63% to 23% margin, while conservative Republicans are more opposed (40% favor, 49% oppose). Three quarters of liberal Democrats (75%) support allowing gays to serve in the military while just 13% oppose the proposal. An only slightly smaller majority of conservative and moderate Democrats (65%) favors permitting gays to serve openly while 27% are opposed.

More women (66%) than men (55%) favor letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military, but the gender gap is mostly among younger Americans. Fully 73% of women under age 50 back gays serving openly in the military, compared with 57% men under 50. Among people age 50 and older, there is little gender gap (58% of women, 52% of men).

There also are differences among religious groups in views on this issue. Nearly three quarters (73%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor allowing gays to serve; smaller majorities of white mainline Protestants (67%) and white Catholics (65%) express this view. By comparison, 41% of white evangelical Protestants support allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces while 45% are opposed, though this is a slight decrease in opposition from March 2009 (when 55% were opposed).

Supreme Court Favorability Down Slightly

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, which struck down major restrictions on corporate contributions to political campaigns, the court has a favorability rating of 58%. This is a slight decrease from the 64% of Americans who had a favorable view of the high court in April 2009. About a quarter (27%) of Americans hold an unfavorable view of the court.

These are the lowest ratings of the court since July 2007, when 57% held a favorable view and 29% held an unfavorable view of the institution. At that time – the conclusion of the first full year with two Bush appointments on the court and some controversial decisions on topics including abortion and school desegregation – partisanship was a substantial factor. Just 49% of Democrats viewed the court favorably compared with 73% of Republicans. The partisan gap is much smaller today, though Republicans continue to be slightly more favorable toward the Court than Democrats (64% vs. 57%).

A large majority of Americans disapprove of the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend on behalf of candidates in elections. Almost seven-in-ten (68%) disapprove of that decision, with only 17% approving. Republicans are slightly more likely to approve of the ruling, though only 22% saying they approve while 65% disapprove. Among Democrats, only 13% approve of the ruling while 76% disapprove.

When asked how much, if anything, they had heard of the Supreme Court’s decision on campaign finance rules, 19% had heard a lot, 46% a little, and 35% had heard nothing at all. Regardless of how much people have heard, the vast majority express disapproval of the decision, though people who heard a lot about the case are somewhat more likely to approve (29%) than people who heard only a little (17%) or nothing (11%) about it.

The minority of Americans who approve of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC have a more favorable opinion of the court overall. Roughly three-quarters (74%) of those who approve of the recent decision have a favorable view of the court, compared with 55% of those who disapprove of the ruling.

Cite this publication: “Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (February 12, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/02/12/midterm-election-challenges-for-both-parties/, accessed on July 23, 2014.