October 6, 2010

Possible Negatives for Candidates: Vote for Bank Bailout, Palin Support

Overview

In the upcoming midterm elections, two factors have emerged as major potential negatives for candidates: Fully 46% say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported government loans to banks during the financial crisis two years ago, while nearly as many (42%) say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate backed by Sarah Palin.

Far smaller percentages say they would be more likely to vote for candidates who had supported the major loans to financial institutions (13%) or had Palin campaign for them (15%). These evaluations have changed little since August.

By contrast, bringing home federal dollars continues to be viewed as a potential asset for a congressional candidate. About half (53%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has a record of bringing government projects and money to their districts. Just 11% say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who brought home federal money and projects.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted September 30-October 3 among 1,002 adults, finds further indications of anti-incumbent sentiment in this election year. About a quarter (26%) say they would be less likely to vote for an incumbent running for reelection while only about half as many (12%) say they would be more likely to support an incumbent; still, about half (53%) say this would make no difference in their vote either way.

The public continues to express more mixed views of other candidate traits and characteristics. About a third (32%) say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is a supporter of the Tea Party movement, while 21% say they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate. And a third (33%) say they would be less likely, rather than more likely (24%), to favor a candidate for whom Barack Obama campaigns.

Americans are split over whether they are more likely to vote for candidates who supported the health care law enacted earlier this year; 35% say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the legislation, while 36% say they would be more likely.

And the survey finds there is limited benefit to being a candidate who has never held elective office. About two-in-ten (21%) say this would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 27% say less likely and nearly half (47%) say it would make no difference.

Divisions over Campaign Appearances by Obama, Palin

Just as in August, Republicans, Democrats and independents differ considerably about the impact of campaign appearances by Sarah Palin or Barack Obama – as well as a candidate’s affiliation with the Tea Party movement.

Nearly four-in-ten Republicans (38%) say campaign support from Palin would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, but 45% say it would make no difference. Just 12% say this would make them less likely to support a candidate.

Two-thirds of Democrats (67%) say a Palin appearance would make them less likely to vote for a candidate, up from 58% in August. By about four-to-one, more independents say Palin’s support would make them less likely to vote for a candidate than say it would make them more likely to do so (43% less likely, 11% more likely); 44% of independents say it would make no difference.

About half of Democrats (49%) say Obama’s campaign help would make them more likely to vote for a congressional candidate while just 10% say it would make them less likely to vote for that candidate (40% say it would make no difference). By contrast, Republicans view an Obama campaign stop as a considerable liability: 72% of Republicans say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate if Barack Obama campaigns on his or her behalf. This is up from 57% in early August.

Among independents, 44% say that Obama campaigning for a candidate would make no difference to their vote; 32% say it would make them less likely to vote for that candidate while just 20% say that it would make them more likely to support that candidate.

Support for the Tea Party is, on balance, viewed more positively by Republicans and more negatively by Democrats, while independents are divided. About four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say a candidate’s support for the Tea Party movement would make them more likely to vote for that candidate; just 9% say the Tea Party affiliation would make them less likely to vote for a candidate (39% say it would make no difference). Among conservative Republicans, a 54% majority say they are more likely to vote for a Tea Party supporter.

More than half of Democrats (54%) say Tea Party affiliation would make them less likely to vote for a candidate with just 8% saying it would make them more likely to do so. A plurality of independents (43%) say Tea Party support would make no difference in their vote, while 22% say this would make them more likely to vote for a candidate and 29% say it would make them less likely to do so.

Continuing Divides Over Contentious Votes

While partisans differ considerably in how they view the impact of a candidate’s support for the health care overhaul on their votes this fall, independents are more divided. Among Republicans, 72% say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the health care law enacted earlier this year; 15% say this will make no difference and 9% say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the legislation. Two-thirds of Democrats (67%), meanwhile, say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the legislation, just 11% say less likely and 20% say this will make no difference. Among independents, about three-in-ten (29%) say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the health care bill, while 37% say they are less likely to support that candidate, 31% say this issue will make no difference in their vote.

Majorities of Republicans (64%) and independents (52%) say they are less likely to vote for candidates who supported the major government loans made to banks in response to the 2008 financial crisis. Among Democrats, 31% say they are less likely to vote for candidates who supported the bank bailouts, while 21% say they are more likely to support these candidates; 44% say this will make no difference.

Impact of Incumbency, New Faces

Both Republicans and independents are divided about whether being new to electoral politics is an advantage or a disadvantage to congressional candidates this year; 26% of Republicans say they are more likely to vote for someone who has never held elective office, while about the same number (29%) say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who has never held elective office; 41% say this would not make a difference in their vote. Independents are similarly split (25% more likely, 21% less likely, 49% no difference).

While the plurality of Democrats (47%) say relative inexperience with electoral politics would not make a difference in their vote, by a ratio of more than two-to-one Democrats see relative newness as a hindrance rather than a help to candidates (35% less likely, 15% more likely).

Looking at the impact of incumbency, 37% of Republicans and 30% of independents say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who is an incumbent seeking re-election. Just 13% of Democrats agree. More than six-in-ten Democrats (63%) say incumbency will make no difference in their vote, compared with 44% of Republicans and 52% of independents.

Few Republicans (10%), Democrats (17%) or independents (11%) say they are more likely to vote
for a candidate because of incumbency.

More Continue to Say Earmarks a Benefit

By ratios of at least two-to-one, more Republicans, Democrats and independents say they are more likely, rather than less likely to vote for a candidate with a record of bringing government projects and money to their districts. About two-thirds of Democrats (68%) say they are more likely to vote for candidates with records of earmarking; 42% of Republicans and 51% of independents say the same. Relatively small numbers of each group say this would make them less likely to vote for a candidate (19% of Republicans, 14% of independents and 3% of Democrats.)

MOST SEE WASHINGTON DOMINATED BY PARTISAN CONFLICT

One month before the midterm elections, Americans offer harsh judgments on Republicans and Democrats in Washington with roughly three-quarters saying partisans have been bickering more than usual and approval ratings for leaders of both parties in Congress matching long-time lows.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted September 30-October 3 among 1,002 adults, finds that 77% say that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been bickering and opposing one another more than usual. Just 8% say they have been working together more.

The percentage saying Republicans and Democrats have been bickering more than usual tops the 72% that said this in October 1995, when partisan fighting over the federal budget eventually lead to government shutdown. At that point, 21% said the parties were working together.

The public’s perceptions have worsened significantly since early last year. In January 2009, when asked about the prospect for bipartisanship in the coming year, fully 50% said they expected Republicans and Democrats to work together more while 39% said they expected increased partisan bickering. But by April 2009, the public was already gloomy about the state of partisan relations: just 25% said the parties were working together more than usual, while 53% said they were bickering and opposing one another more. Since then, assessments have worsened. Only about a third as many people now see the two parties cooperating as did so then.

There is widespread partisan agreement that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been fighting more than usual. Currently, nearly equal percentages of Republicans (80%), Democrats (80%) and independents (78%) say that partisans in Washington are bickering and opposing one another more than usual.

Lower Ratings for Leaders of Both Parties in Congress

Job approval ratings for both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress are down slightly from mid-summer. Though Republicans may be poised for major gains in the House and Senate in the midterm elections, just 24% of the public approves of the job being done by the party’s leaders in Congress.

That is down from 33% in July, and equals a low measured at about the same time last year. Disapproval stands at 60%, matching the number from one year ago. Shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009, approval of Republican leaders stood at 34%.

Job performance ratings for Democratic leaders also have slipped since the start of the Obama administration (from 48% approval in February 2009 to 30% currently). In July, that rating stood at 35%. Still, going into the campaign’s final weeks Democrats’ approval ratings are modestly higher than the ratings for Republican leaders.

About six-in-ten Democrats (62%) and Republicans (57%) say they approve of their own party’s leaders, while few independents approve of either group. There is little change since July in the percentage of Republicans who approve of their leaders (60% then), but fewer Democrats than in July approve of their party’s leaders in Congress (74% in July vs. 62% now).

Currently, just 19% of independents say they approve of Republican leaders’ performance and 21% say they approve of Democratic leaders’ performance. In July, 26% of independents approved of the GOP leaders and 25% approved of Democratic leaders.

Nine-in-ten Republicans say they disapprove of the job being done by Democratic leaders in Congress, while 82% of Democrats disapprove of the job being done by GOP leaders. Among independents, 64% give a negative performance rating to the GOP leaders, while 60% disapprove of the job being done by Democratic leaders.

Views of Congressional Accomplishments

Public views of Congress’ accomplishments have changed little since June. Today, 36% say Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses, 37% say it has accomplished about as much and 20% say it has accomplished more.

The 36% of Americans who now say Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses is comparable to the proportions in both October 1994 (36%) and October 2006 (39%), when assessments of congressional accomplishments were relatively negative. However, the percentage of Americans who now say Congress has accomplished more than other recent Congresses (20%) is also relatively high compared to other past midterm cycles. Significantly more now say Congress has accomplished more than previous Congresses than did so in the fall of 1994 (10%), 2002 (11%) or 2006 (6%); in 1998, 24% said this.

Views of Congressional accomplishments differ considerably by party. A majority of Republicans (54%) say Congress has accomplished less than usual, 31% say its accomplishments are on par with other recent years, while just 9% say this Congress has accomplished more than most. By contrast, Democrats are more divided: 37% say Congress has accomplished about the same amount compared to other recent
Congresses, 33% say it has accomplished more than most, and just 24% say it has accomplished less than most.

In 2006, when Republicans controlled Congress, partisan assessments were the reverse; Democrats were substantially more likely than Republicans to say Congress had accomplished less than usual.

Republicans and Democrats also differ in their reasons for saying that Congress has accomplished less than usual. By about two-to-one, Republicans who think Congress has accomplished less say this is more because they think Congress has done the wrong things than because it has not done enough (36% vs. 15%). By contrast, most Democrats who say this Congress has accomplished less than usual say it is more because it has not done enough (18%) rather than because it has done the wrong things (5%).

Independents are about equally likely to say that Congress has accomplished less than usual (38%) as to say congressional accomplishments are about the same as usual (40%); 18% say Congress has accomplished more than usual. Those who say Congress has accomplished less are divided in their assessment of why (19% of independents say it is because Congress has done the wrong things, 16% say it is because Congress has not done enough).