November 11, 2010

Mixed Reactions to Republican Midterm Win

Section 3: Voters and Nonvoters Differ on Key Policies

A core theme of Republican campaigns across the country this year was a promise to reduce the size and reach of the government. The poll finds most voters in agreement with this sentiment, but less consensus on specific aspects of the Republican agenda. Moreover, the views of voters and nonvoters diverge significantly, with nonvoters expressing more support for government action.

A majority of voters in the poll (56%) agree more with the statement that government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals, while just 38% say government should do more to solve problems. Fully eight-in-ten voters who supported Republicans (80%) say government is doing too much, compared with just 26% of those who voted Democratic. Among nonvoters, the sentiment is nearly reversed, with 53% wanting more from government and just 34% saying that government is doing too much.

Consistent with this philosophical divide over the scope of government, a 55% majority of voters (including 72% of those voting Republican) place a higher priority on deficit reduction than on spending to help the economy recover. A plurality of nonvoters in the poll (49%) favor more government spending.

Overall opinion on the key issue of health care reform is divided, with 43% approving of the legislation passed earlier this year and 47% disapproving. Among voters, roughly half (51%) express disapproval (including a whopping 85% of those who voted Republican), compared with just 41% who approve of the legislation. Among non-voters, opinion is more divided (47% approval vs. 40% disapproval).

Voters provided little clear guidance for future health care policy. Although a plurality favor repeal of the health care law (46%), just as many want to keep it as is or expand it (26% favor expanding it, 21% favor keeping it as is). Support for repeal is lower among nonvoters. Just 28% favor repeal; 36% would like to see the measure expanded and 25% prefer keeping it as it is.

Nearly three-quarters of voters favor maintaining the Bush administration’s tax cuts for most people. Still, fewer than half (40%) want to see the tax cuts maintained for everyone; 33% want them repealed for the wealthy and 22% want them repealed altogether. Among nonvoters, the plurality view is to repeal all of the cuts (39%), while 24% support repe
al of the cuts only for wealthy taxpayers; 23% favor maintaining the cuts for everyone.

On all of these questions about future policy, as well as on the overall scope of government, respondents who are registered to vote but did not turn out in the election are at least as likely as those who are not registered to offer pro-government opinions. For example, 55% of nonvoters who are registered to vote say government should do more to solve problems, compared with 51% among those not registered to vote.

Free trade agreements did not attract as much attention in the campaign as health care reform or the deficit, but divisions between voters and nonvoters exist on this issue as well. Half of voters (50%) say that, in general, free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the policies of the World Trade Organization have been a bad thing for the United States. Among nonvoters, however, just 35% agree – and 44% say they have been a good thing for the country. Among voters, the balance of opinion about free trade agreements was negative especially among those who voted Republican; 57% say free trade agreements have been a bad thing for the U.S., compared with just 28% who say they have been a good thing. Opinions are more divided among those who voted Democratic, with 41% saying free trade agreements have been a bad thing and 33% saying they have been a good thing.