July 26, 2011

Public Wants a Debt Ceiling Compromise, Expects a Deal Before Deadline

Section 1: Views of Obama, Congress and the Political Parties

As views of national conditions worsen, Barack Obama’s job ratings remain mixed: 48% disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job as president, while 44% approve. This is little changed from June (46% approve, 45% disapprove). In early May, immediately following the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, 56% approved of Obama’s job performance.

A large majority of Democrats (77%) continue to approve of Obama’s job performance while a comparable majority of Republicans disapprove (79%). For the first time in Pew Research Center polling, a majority of independents (54%) disapprove of Obama’s performance. Obama’s approval among independents has slipped to just 36% from 42% last month and a recent high of 52% following the killing of bin Laden.

National satisfaction has also declined in recent months. In the current survey, just 17% say they are satisfied with the way things are going in this country today while 79% say they are dissatisfied. In May, somewhat more (30%) said they were satisfied with national conditions. That figure fell seven points to 23% in June and has fallen another six points in July. The current ratings are now at the lowest point since the financial crisis of 2008. In October of that year, just 11% expressed a positive view of national conditions.

Only about a quarter of Democrats (27%), 14% of independents and just 8% of Republicans say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. In May, 40% of Democrats, 32% of independents and 19% of Republicans were satisfied with national conditions.

Poor Ratings for Congressional Leaders

Just a quarter (25%) of the public approves of the job Republican leaders in Congress are doing, while far more (66%) disapprove. Ratings of Republican leaders have declined in recent months and now stand near long-term lows. Shortly after the midterm elections in November 2010, about as many approved (41%) as disapproved (37%) of Republican congressional leaders’ policies and plans for the future. Republican leaders’ ratings turned negative in January and have declined further since then.

Democrats give Republican leaders overwhelmingly negative job ratings (83% disapprove), as do independents (70% disapprove). A narrow majority of Republicans approve of the way GOP leaders are doing their job (54%), but nearly four-in-ten (38%) disapprove.

Republican and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party give GOP leaders mixed job ratings: 51% approve, but about as many disapprove (45%). Among Republicans and leaners who disagree with the Tea Party or have no opinion of the movement, there is less support for party leaders: 42% approve of their performance and 49% approve.

Job ratings for Democratic leaders in Congress are not much better than those of GOP leaders. Just 30% of the public approves of their job performance while twice as many (60%) disapprove. Ratings for Democratic Congressional leaders have shown little change in recent months. Nonetheless, approval ratings for the Democratic Party’s leadership remain near all-time lows.

Democrats approve of their party’s leaders by a 58%-35% margin. Majorities of both liberal Democrats (63%) and conservative and moderate Democrats (55%) approve of their leaders. Independents’ views of Democratic leaders’ job performance are about as negative as their views of Republican leaders – just 23% approve of the way Democratic leaders are doing their jobs while 65% disapprove.

Wide Partisan Divide in Confidence in Government

Most Americans (59%) say they have not too much (37%) or no confidence at all (22%) that the government in Washington will make progress on important problems over the next year. Only about four-in-ten (39%) say they have a lot of confidence (6%) or some confidence (33%). These views have declined slightly since last September, when 44% said they had at least some confidence in the government’s abilities to make progress on major issues.

Democrats stand out for being far more optimistic than other groups about the government’s ability to address important problems over the next year. Fully 62% have at least some confidence in the government’s ability to address major problems over the next year while just 37% say they have not much or no confidence at all. By comparison, just 32% of independents and 24% of Republicans are confident the government in Washington will make progress on important issues. Among Republican and Republican-leaning independents, optimism is somewhat higher among those who do not agree with the Tea Party (29%) than it is among those who agree with the movement (17%).

Parties at Parity on Most Issues

The public’s views about which party can better handle several major issues have changed little since April. The GOP currently holds a 10-point advantage as the party better able to reduce the federal budget deficit (43% to 33%). The Republican advantage had been 12 points in April, but had narrowed to three points in May.

On three other issues – improving the job situation, making the Social Security system financially sound and dealing with taxes – neither party holds a significant advantage.

As in April, independents are much more likely to say Republicans could do a better job than Democrats at reducing the deficit (by 45% to 27%). The GOP also holds a 12-point lead among independents as the party better able to improve the job situation (42% to 30%).This represents a change from April, when independents were divided over which party could better improve the job situation (38% Republican Party, 35% Democratic Party). Independents are split over which party can do a better job of making the Social Security system financially sound and dealing with taxes.

Democrats Seen as More Willing to Work with Opponents

Democrats continue to hold substantial leads over Republicans on several traits, including willingness to cooperate with opponents, empathy and honest governance. And far more people view the GOP as more extreme in its positions than say that about the Democratic Party.

About twice as many say the Democrats are more willing to work with political leaders from the other party than say that about the GOP (51% to 26%). In April, the Democrats held a 17-point lead on this trait (49% to 32%).

The Democrats also continue to hold double-digit leads on concern for “people like me” (21 points) and governing in a more honest and ethical way (12 points).

For almost two years, Democrats and Republicans have run about even as the party better able to manage the federal government. In the new survey, 40% say the Republican Party could better manage the government while about as many (38%) say the Democratic Party. Roughly equal percentages also say each party is more influenced by lobbyists and special interests (39% Republican Party, 37% Democratic Party).

Young, Well Educated See GOP as More Extreme

When asked which political party is more extreme in its positions, 50% say the Republican Party while 35% say the Democratic Party. While there are wide partisan differences in these opinions there also are age and educational differences.

Majorities of those younger than 30 (60%) and those 30 to 49 (54%) say the Republican Party is more extreme in its positions. That compares with only about four-in-ten of those older than 50 (42%). College graduates (59%) and those with some college experience (55%) are more likely than those with less education to view the Republican Party as more extreme.

This question divides Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support the Tea Party from those who disagree or have no opinion of the movement. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of Republican Tea Party supporters say the Democratic Party is more extreme in its positions, while just 21% say that about the GOP. Those who disagree with the Tea Party or have no opinion about it are about evenly divided: 43% say the Republican Party is more extreme, while 40% name the Democratic Party.