March 14, 2012

Romney Leads GOP Contest, Trails in Matchup with Obama

Section 4: Views of the Parties

The Democratic Party’s image has improved in recent months while impressions of the Republican Party have remained negative. The public also views the Democratic Party as better able to deal with the nation’s energy problems and Medicare. Despite offering a mixed assessment of the health care legislation passed in 2010, the public has more confidence in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party when it comes to health care. On a number of other issues and traits, Democrats run even with Republicans, while the GOP does not hold an advantage on any of eight areas tested.

About half (49%) now have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, up from 43% in January. This represents a significant recovery from an all-time low favorability rating of 38% in April 2010, just after the passage of the health care bill. However, impressions of the Democratic Party are still far lower than they were in January 2009 as Obama was taking office, when 62% viewed the party favorably.

Views of the Republican Party continue to be negative – just 36% have a positive impression of the GOP while 56% have an unfavorable opinion. This is little changed from earlier this year and matches the equally low ratings the GOP received in April 2010 (37%).

A majority of women (54%) now have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, up eight points over the last two months, while 40% have an unfavorable impression. Women’s views of the Republican Party are far more negative – 38% have a favorable opinion while 56% have an unfavorable one; these opinions are little changed from January. Throughout the past four years, with the exception of the spring and summer of 2010, women have viewed the Democratic Party more favorably than the GOP.

For the first time since 2009, more men have a favorable view of the Democratic Party than the Republican Party; 44% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 47% have an unfavorable view. By comparison, 35% have a positive view of the GOP while 56% have a negative view.

Opinions of the Democratic Party have also improved among older Americans. About half (49%) of those 50 and older have a positive view of the Democratic Party while 45% have a negative impression. In January, just 37% had a favorable opinion while 57% had an unfavorable one. College graduates also view the Democratic Party more favorably than they did two months ago – 55% now have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, up from 41% in January. There has been little change among those without a college degree.

Although the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the Republican Party, opinions of the parties are about even among non-Hispanic whites; 43% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 41% view the GOP favorably. Far more African Americans and Hispanics have a positive view of the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.

Democrats also are viewed more favorably than Republicans among all age groups except those 65 and older. (Majorities in every age group view the Republican Party unfavorably.) College graduates view the Democratic Party far more favorably than the GOP (55% vs. 31%) as do those in households earning less than $75,000 annually.

While independents take a dim view of both parties, the GOP fares far worse than the Democratic Party. About four-in-ten independents (39%) have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 48% have an unfavorable view (in January just 32% had a favorable opinion and 60% an unfavorable view). By nearly two-to-one, more have an unfavorable impression of the Republican Party than a favorable one (58% to 31%).

Republican Party Seen as More Extreme

Throughout the past year, the public has been mostly divided over who can better manage the government. Currently, 42% say the Democratic Party can better manage the federal government while 39% think the Republican Party would do better. Still, there has been a consistent perception that the Republican Party is more extreme in its positions than the Democratic Party. Half (50%) say the GOP is more extreme in its positions while just 35% say the Democratic Party is more extreme, a balance of opinion largely unchanged since July of last year.

The Democratic Party has opened a slim 44% to 39% advantage as the party better able to improve the job situation, which remains the public’s top economic concern. Over the past year, the parties have been tied on this issue. Democrats also now run even with Republicans on who can better deal with the federal budget deficit (42% Republicans, 41% Democrats). In October, Republicans had a nine-point lead on this issue.

On health care and energy, Democrats lead the Republican Party; 46% say the Democratic Party can better handle the nation’s energy problem while 35% choose the Republican Party. By a 49% to 35% margin, more say the Democratic Party can better deal with health care; Democrats have a similar advantage on dealing with the Medicare system.

The Democratic Party also is seen as better representing people’s views on abortion – 47% say Democrats better represent their views on abortion while 31% say the Republican Party.

Independents Rate the Parties

Among independents, about as many say the Democratic Party can handle most issues as say the Republican Party. The parties run even among independents on who can better manage the federal government and on nearly all issues tested, including improving the job situation, dealing with health care and the Medicare system and handling the nation’s energy problems.

However, independents view the Republican Party as better able to deal with the federal budget deficit; 46% of independents say the Republican Party can better handle the deficit while just 27% say the Democratic Party.

But by a 46%-29% margin, more independents say the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party better represents their views on abortion. About half of independents (49%) say the Republican Party is more extreme in its positions while a third (33%) name the Democratic Party.