January 13, 2011

Obama’s Job Ratings, Personal Image Unchanged by Recent Washington Events

Section 2: Views of the New Congress

As Congress begins with a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, about a third (34%) of Americans approve of GOP congressional leaders’ policies and plans for the future; 43% disapprove. Public approval of Republican plans has declined by seven points since the party won back the House in November’s election; two months ago 41% approved and 37% disapproved of their plans.

About seven-in-ten (69%) Republicans now approve of their party leadership’s plans and policies, compared with just 13% of Democrats. And while 30% of independents approve of GOP leaders’ plans, far more (45%) disapprove.

Since November, approval of Republican plans has declined among moderate and liberal Republicans, while approval among conservative Republicans is little changed. Currently, 57% of moderate and liberal Republicans approve of GOP leaders’ policies, down 21 points since November. Opinion among conservative Republicans has changed little over this period (78% approved in November, 75% today).

Over the same time frame, approval of the GOP congressional agenda has dropped by nine points among independents (from 39% to 30%). Republican-leaning independents are far less supportive of Republican plans and policies than they were in November; 50% currently approve, down from 67% two months ago. Approval among Democratic-leaning independents – and Democrats – has not changed significantly since November (currently 17% and 13%, respectively).

More Partisan Bickering Expected

The public is pessimistic about the relationships between the two parties in Washington over the coming year. By about a two-to-one margin, more say that Republicans and Democrats in the capital will bicker and oppose one another more than usual (63%) rather than work together more to solve problems (30%). At the start of the Obama administration and the last Congress two years ago, more Americans predicted increased cooperation than opposition (50% vs. 39%). The current predictions are roughly on par with the public’s forecasts at the start of George W. Bush’s second term in January 2005.

Opinions about the expected level of cooperation between the parties are about the same across partisan groups: Only about three-in-ten Republicans (30%), Democrats (28%) or independents (30%) say they expect the parties in Washington to work together more in 2011. This is comparable to partisan opinions in January 2005. In January 2009, all groups were more optimistic about improving relations than they are today, although Democrats were considerably more positive about prospects for partisan cooperation than were Republicans.

Most Want Opposing Sides in Washington to Cooperate

Despite gloomy forecasts about whether the two parties will work together this year, majorities would like to see Republican leaders and Barack Obama try to work with each other, even if it means disappointing some of their supporters.

About six-in-ten (61%) say Republican leaders should try as best they can to work with Obama; 33% say GOP leadership should stand up to Obama, even if it means less gets done in Washington. Opinions about Obama working with Republican leaders are similar: 65% say Obama should work with GOP leadership, even if it means disappointing some Democratic supporters; 28% say he should stand up to Republicans even if it means less gets done in Washington. The public’s appetite for bipartisanship is about the same as it was immediately after the November election.

Independents, in particular, want to see Obama and Republican leadership working together. Two-thirds (67%) say Republican congressional leadership should work with Obama, while about the same percentage (68%) says Obama should work with Republican leaders.

While Democrats are divided about what Obama should do (46% say work with the GOP, 47% say stand up to them), Republicans are about twice as likely to say their leadership should stand up to Obama as to say it should work with him (65% vs. 30%).

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party overwhelmingly favor GOP leaders standing up to Obama; 72% express this view, while just 24% favor GOP leaders working with Obama. By contrast, opinions are more divided among other Republicans and GOP leaners (46% stand up to Obama, 51% work with Obama).

Impressions of the Tea Party

The Tea Party movement draws a range of reactions when people are asked to describe their impression of it in a single word. Although no one word is mentioned by more than 2% of people, among the most commonly mentioned words are some positive (good, great), some negative (radical, crazy, ridiculous) and some neutral (OK, undecided, confused, conservative). In April 2010, the balance of the top words mentioned was somewhat more positive (great, interesting, patriots, good, needed), although less flattering words were also relatively high on the list (ridiculous, misinformed, radical, stupid).

Not surprisingly, these descriptors differ between those who agree and disagree with the movement. Among those who agree with the Tea Party, the top words are
all positive (good, great, hopeful, patriotic, impressed), while those who disagree with the movement volunteer more negative words (radical, ridiculous, crazy, extreme, idiots, nuts, scary). The top descriptors used by those who don’t have a strong opinion of the movement reflect their relative unfamiliarity (OK, undecided, unknown, interesting).

Tea Party’s Impact on Congress

Most Americans (55%) say either that Tea Party supporters in Congress either will not have much of an effect on the institution (39%) or offer no response (16%). Among those who do see Tea Party supporters having an impact, 27% think it will be positive and 18% say it will be negative

Nearly half of Republicans (48%) say members associated with the Tea Party movement will have a positive effect, compared with 29% of independents and just 10% of Democrats.

Among Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party, more than three-quarters (77%) say supporters of the movement in Congress will have a positive effect on the institution. Other Republicans and Republican leaners offer more muted predictions. While they are more likely to say the effect on Congress will be positive (22%) than negative (11%), nearly half (46%) say the presence of Tea Party supporters in Congress will not have much of an effect.

GOP Investigations Backed

About six-in-ten Americans (63%) say they have heard either a lot (15%) or a little (48%) about the plans by Republican leaders in Congress to open major investigations into how the government has operated under the Obama administration. In a separate survey conducted concurrently, the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index finds that these plans rank lower in public awareness than other items on the GOP’s agenda, including efforts to repeal the health care law (49% heard a lot, 32% a little) and proposed spending cuts (31% heard a lot, 41% a little).

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to have heard about these plans (71% of Republicans vs. 59% of Democrats have heard at least a little). Awareness is particularly high among conservative Republicans: Eight-in-ten (80%) have heard about these plans. That compares with just 58% of moderate and liberal Republicans. About six-in-ten independents (63%) have heard about the plans.

Among those who have heard a lot or a little, 56% say opening major investigations is the right thing to do, while 32% say it is the wrong thing to do. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) say it is the right thing, compared with a smaller majority of independents (52% right thing, 33% wrong thing). Democrats are more divided (41% say it is the right thing to do, 51% say it is the wrong thing).