May 24, 2010

Willingness to Compromise a Plus in Midterms

Overview

Many Americans say they will look less favorably this fall at congressional candidates who supported the federal bailout of major banks and financial institutions in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

About half (49%) say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the major government loans to banks; 14% say they are more likely to vote for a candidate that supported the legislation, while 32% say this will make no difference.

By contrast, about as many say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the recently passed health care law (39%) as less likely to favor such a candidate (35%); 22% say a candidate’s stance on health care legislation will make no difference.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by SHRM, finds more positive than negative reactions to a candidate who is willing to make compromises. A substantial minority (42%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who will make compromises with people they disagree with; only about half as many (22%) say they would be less likely to back a candidate willing to compromise, while 29% say it will make no difference. But there is a wide partisan divide. More than twice as many Republicans (40%) as Democrats (19%) or independents (15%) say they would be less willing to favor a candidate willing to compromise.

The survey, conducted May 20-23 among 1,002 adults, finds that being an incumbent is viewed more negatively than positively (27% less likely to vote for vs. 15% more likely). Still, about half (51%) says it would make no difference either way, which is unchanged from a 2006 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

But at the same time, the public does not see a lack of experience in elected office as a positive attribute. About as many say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office (28%) as say they would be more likely to back such a candidate (24%). More than four-in-ten (43%) say prior elected experience makes no difference.

Health Care Vote Divisive

About three-quarters of Republicans (74%) say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported health care legislation. On the other hand, 69% of Democrats say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the legislation. Few in either party say this issue will make no difference (12% of Republicans, 16% of Democrats).

Like the public as a whole, independents are divided: 31% say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the health care law, while 34% say they are less likely to vote for such a candidate and 32% say it would make no difference.

In terms of the 2008 financial bailout, Republicans, Democrats and independents are all, on balance, less likely rather than more likely to vote for candidates who supported the legislation. But far more Republicans (63%) view support for the government’s loans to major banks negatively than do independents (48%) and Democrats (41%).

Views of Candidate Traits

Nearly half of Democrats (49%) and 44% of independents say they are more likely to vote for candidates who will compromise with people they disagree with, compared with 35% of Republicans. And 40% of Republicans say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who is willing to compromise, compared with 19% of Democrats and 15% of independents.

As the GOP fights to regain control of Congress, 43% of Republicans say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who is an incumbent seeking reelection. That compares with 27% of independents and just 17% of Democrats.

Nearly a third of Republicans (32%) say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office, compared with 16% of Democrats; 27% of independents agree. Fully half of independents (50%) say a lack of prior experience in elected office would make no difference in their vote, compared with 44% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans.

Views of Tea Party Supporters

The percentage of Americans who say they agree with the Tea Party movement is little changed since mid-March. Currently, 25% say they agree with the movement, 18% disagree and 32% offer no opinion. The percentage that says they have never heard of the movement is down from 31% to 25%.

Three-quarters (75%) of those who agree with the Tea Party movement say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the health care law; about the same percentage (73%) says the same about a candidate who supported the government’s loans to major banks in the 2008 financial crisis.

More than half of those who agree with the Tea Party (55%) say they would be less likely to vote for an incumbent seeking reelection; by comparison, just 27% of the general public say they would be less likely to vote for an incumbent. And about a third (34%) of those who agree with the Tea Party say they would be less likely to vote for candidates who will compromise with people they disagree with, compared with 22% of the public.

People who agree with the Tea Party movement also are much more favorably disposed to political novices than is the general public. About four-in-ten (42%) of those who agree with the Tea Party movement say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office; that compares with just 24% of the public.

NEITHER PARTY HAS EDGE ON ECONOMY

The public continues to divide evenly as to which party could better handle the economy, while the Republican Party now holds a modest advantage in dealing with immigration. The Democratic Party, which has seen its advantage on a number of issues narrow or disappear this year, continues to be viewed as better able to deal with energy policy.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by SHRM, finds that the two parties are viewed about equally on two major issues this year – dealing with the economy and reducing the federal budget deficit. Currently, 34% say the Democratic Party is better able to deal with the economy while 33% say the Republican Party and 14% volunteer neither party. Similarly, about the same percentage views the Republican Party (33%) as better able to reduce the budget deficit as prefers the Democratic Party (30%) while 16% say neither party.

For the most part, the balance of opinions about the parties’ capabilities on issues have changed little in recent months. However, the Republican Party has gained on several major issues this year when compared with previous years, including the economy and energy. And the new survey finds that the Republican Party has now gained a significant lead on dealing with immigration (by 35% to 27%). As recently as last month, nearly identical percentages said the GOP (36%) and Democratic Party (35%) could do better in dealing with immigration.

GOP’s Gains on Issues

Currently, 38% say the Republican could do a better job of dealing with the terrorist threat at home, while 27% say the Democratic Party. The GOP’s advantage has narrowed slightly from 17 points in February (46% to 29%), but is somewhat larger than it was last August (six points) or in February 2008 (seven points).

In the new survey, the two parties are rated about evenly as to which is better able to reduce the federal budget deficit. The GOP held a slight 6-point edge in February (42% to 36%). However, during the previous midterm in September 2006, the Democratic Party led on the deficit by 20 points (47% to 27%).

Similarly, on the economy both parties are now rated about evenly; this was the also the case in February. The Democratic Party held a 10-point advantage on dealing with the economy last August (42% to 32%) and an even wider lead in February 2008 (53% to 34%).

The Democratic Party currently holds a seven-point lead as the party better able to deal with the nation’s energy problems (35% to 28%), which is little changed from April (40% to 32%). Last August, the Democratic Party led by 22 points on dealing with the nation’s energy problems and its advantage was even greater in February 2008 (34 points).

Independents’ Changing Views

Independents’ views of which party can do a better job on key issues have fluctuated in recent months. On each of these issues, a growing and relatively large proportion of independents volunteer that neither party, or both, could do better, or offer no opinion.

In the current survey, about twice as many independents say the Republican Party could do better than the Democratic Party in dealing with terrorist threats at home (38% to 18%). But the GOP’s advantage on terrorism among independents was larger in February (48% Rep Party/19% Dem Party).

Independents also now favor the Republican Party on immigration, by 32% to 18%. In April, independents were divided, with 32% saying the Republican Party could do better and 29% the Democratic Party.

Independents slightly favor the GOP as better able to reduce the budget deficit (by 30% to 22%). But the Republican Party’s lead on this issue was larger in February (42% to 28%).

POOR RATINGS FOR GULF LEAK RESPONSE

As efforts to stem the flow and contain the spread of the large oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico continue, public evaluations of the response to the crisis are largely negative. Americans are particularly critical of the way BP, the company that operated the oil rig, has handled the leak. More than four-in-ten (44%) say BP has done a poor job in its response to the crisis. An additional 26% rate BP’s performance as “only fair” while just 19% say the energy company has done an excellent or good job. The current ratings reflect growing criticism of BP since earlier this month, when about a quarter of Americans (27%) rated BP’s performance as poor.

Views of the Obama administration’s response to the oil leak are more measured, although also critical. About a quarter (26%) rate the administration’s response as poor, while 31% say its response has been “only fair;” 31% say the administration has done an excellent or good job responding to the crisis.

There is little partisan difference when it comes to criticism of BP’s job dealing with the crisis. Pluralities of Republicans (43%), Democrats (49%) and independents (42%) say the company’s response has been poor. Although few rate BP’s performance as excellent or good, Republicans are more likely than both Democrats and independents to evaluate BP’s performance positively (25% vs. 14% of Democrats and 17% of independents).

In contrast, partisans are more divided in their evaluations of the Obama administration’s handling of the oil leak. While about half of Democrats (48%) say the administration has done an excellent or good job responding to the crisis, just 27% of independents and 13% of Republicans give positive assessments. Roughly four-in-ten Republicans (44%) say the administration has done a poor job, about the same proportion that give BP a poor rating (43%). By comparison, 29% of independents rate the administration’s performance poorly, as do just 11% of Democrats.