Campaign Exposes Fissures Over Issues, Values and How Life Has Changed in the U.S.
3. Views on economy, government services, trade
Questions on the state of the U.S. economic system, free trade and the role of government – both generally and in specific areas such as health care – surface differences within both political parties.
On the Republican side, supporters of Donald Trump stand out for their unfavorable views of free trade, negative assessments of national economic conditions and their own personal finances, and for being more likely than supporters of other GOP candidates to say the economic system in this country unfairly favors powerful interests. Despite these divisions, much also unites Republican registered voters who back different primary candidates. On policy, there is broad consensus that the government should not be responsible for ensuring that all Americans have health care coverage. And on broader values, large majorities of Republicans believe that hard work leads to success in this country and that government is doing too much better left to businesses and individuals.
There also are many points of general agreement among Democrats: That corporate profits are too high, that the government should ensure health care coverage for all Americans, and that the government should be doing more to solve problems. But differences also emerge among Democrats in their views of the country. Most Sanders supporters say that hard work is no guarantee of success in this country, while Clinton supporters take the view that people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard. In addition, most Clinton supporters say problems in the world would be even worse without U.S. involvement; Sanders supporters aren’t so sure: About as many say U.S. efforts to solve problems around the world usually end up making things worse as say global problems would be even worse without U.S. efforts.
Views of national economic conditions
Most registered voters continue to see an uneven economic playing field in the U.S.: 68% say the economic system in the country unfairly favors powerful interests, while just 30% say the economic system is generally fair to most Americans.
Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters are slightly more likely to view the U.S. economic system as unfairly favoring powerful interests (54%) than being fair to most Americans (44%). This view is much more widespread among Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters. By a roughly four-to-one (80%-19%) margin, Democratic voters say the U.S. economic system unfairly favors powerful interests.
Among Republicans, a clear majority (61%) of Trump supporters say the economic system is tilted towards the powerful, compared with fewer (38%) who say it is generally fair. By contrast, about as many supporters of Cruz and Kasich say the U.S economic system is generally fair to most people as say it unfairly favors powerful interests.
An overwhelming 91% of Sanders supporters view the U.S. economic system as unfair, while just 9% say it is generally fair. Most Clinton supporters also hold this view, but by a somewhat less overwhelming margin (73%-25%).
Three-quarters of Democratic registered voters (75%) say that business corporations make too much profit, while just 22% say they make a fair and reasonable amount of profit. Among Republican registered voters a 58% majority believes that business corporations generally make a fair profit; 37% who say they make too much profit.
On balance, supporters of the three remaining Republican candidates see corporate profits as fair and reasonable rather than too high. However, the share of Trump supporters who say corporations make too much profit (43%) is somewhat higher than the share of Kasich (32%) or Cruz (31%) supporters who say this.
As with views of the fairness of the economic system, differences on the Democratic side are limited to the size of the majorities expressing a shared view. Fully 82% of Sanders supporters say business corporations make too much profit; a somewhat smaller majority (69%) of Clinton supporters also holds this view.
Heading into the election, views of current economic conditions in the U.S. today are mixed. A plurality of registered voters report that conditions are only fair (43%); smaller shares say that conditions are excellent or good (28%) or poor (29%). As has been the case throughout the Obama administration, Republican registered voters are more likely than Democratic registered voters to view economic conditions negatively.
Trump supporters have particularly negative perceptions of the state of the economy: Nearly half (48%) say conditions are poor and 39% say they are only fair; just 12% call them excellent or good. Supporters of Cruz and Kasich are less negative: Roughly three-in-ten Cruz (31%) and Kasich supporters (28%) say economic conditions are poor. Pluralities of Cruz and Kasich supporters (47% each) say that economic conditions in the country today are only fair.
Among Democratic voters, Clinton supporters have a brighter view of current economic conditions than Sanders supporters. Overall, 43% of Clinton supporters say that the economy is in excellent or good shape, while 41% say conditions are only fair and just 15% say the economy is in poor shape. Sanders supporters are more likely to describe conditions as only fair (46%) than as excellent or good (30%); 23% say conditions are poor.
Despite differing views on the state of the national economy, Republicans and Democrats have similar views about job availability in their local area. Roughly half of both Democratic and GOP registered voters say that jobs are difficult to find in their community (50% and 51%, respectively) while slightly smaller shares of both groups (43% of Democrats, 45% of Republicans) say there are plenty of jobs available.
A majority of Trump supporters (56%) say jobs are difficult to find in their community, while fewer (39%) say there are plenty of jobs available. Supporters of John Kasich offer more positive evaluations of their local job situation: 53% say there are plenty of jobs available in their community, while 42% say that jobs are difficult to find. Among Cruz supporters, 51% say jobs are difficult to find compared with 46% who say there are plenty of jobs available.
Among Democratic voters, Sanders supporters (55%) are more likely than supporters of Hillary Clinton (47%) to say jobs are difficult to find.
Trump supporters least satisfied about their personal finances
When it comes to assessments of personal finances, Donald Trump’s supporters are less satisfied with their own situation than backers of Ted Cruz or John Kasich. Half (50%) of Trump supporters say they are not very satisfied with their own financial situation, while 48% say they are generally satisfied with the way things are going for them financially. Among Kasich (73%-24%) and Cruz (61%-38%) supporters, far more say they are generally satisfied with their personal financial situation than not very satisfied.
Among Democratic voters, 65% of Hillary Clinton supporters and 57% of Bernie Sanders supporters say they are generally satisfied with their own personal financial situation.
Despite doubts about the fairness of the U.S. economic system, a majority of registered voters (61%) continue to say that most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard, while 37% say hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.
Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters are divided in their views on this question. Most Sanders supporters (57%) say that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people, while 42% say that most people who want to get ahead can make it through hard work. Views among Clinton supporters are the reverse: By a 59%-39% margin, Clinton backers say that most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard.
There are no significant differences in views among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, with at least seven-in-ten of those who support Trump, Cruz or Kasich saying most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard.
Partisans remain deeply divided over federal role in health care
One of the widest partisan divides on issues is whether or not it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that all Americans have health care coverage. A broad 83%-majority of Republican registered voters say this is not the federal government’s responsibility; a similarly large 78%-majority of Democratic registered voters say this is the responsibility of the federal government.
Within the two parties there is little variation across supporters of each of the candidates. Broad majorities of Trump, Cruz and Kasich supporters say it is not the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage, while large shares of Clinton and Sanders supporters say this is the responsibility of the federal government.
Little appetite for considering reductions in Social Security
When asked about the long-term future of Social Security, about seven-in-ten registered voters (71%) say that benefits should not be reduced in any way, while only about a quarter (26%) says some reductions in benefits for future retirees need to be considered.
While many questions regarding government benefits elicit opposing views among Republicans and Democrats, there is broad consensus on preserving Social Security benefits. Clear majorities of Republican and Democratic registered voters — and backers of all five presidential candidates — oppose reductions to the Social Security benefits of future retirees.
Free trade agreements viewed positively by Democratic voters
Registered voters are currently split in their overall view of how free trade agreements have impacted the U.S.: 47% say free trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries have been a good thing for the U.S., while about as many (43%) say they have been a bad thing. Opinions about free trade agreements among voters have turned more negative since May 2015, when more said they had been a good thing (53%) than a bad thing (37%) for the U.S. Current views are similar to those measured in March 2011 and April 2009.
Views of U.S. free trade agreements are more positive among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (56% good thing vs. 34% bad thing) than Republican and Republican-leaning voters (38% good thing vs. 53% bad thing). This marks a shift from May 2015, when both groups took a positive view of free trade, on balance.
Among Republican voters, Trump supporters stand out for their negative views of free trade: 67% of Trump supporters say free trade agreements have been a bad thing for the U.S., while just 27% say they have been a good thing. Republican supporters of Ted Cruz (48% good thing vs. 40% bad thing) and John Kasich (44% good thing vs. 46% bad thing) hold more mixed views.
By a 58% to 31% margin, more Clinton supporters say free trade agreements have been a good thing than a bad thing for the U.S. Views among supporters of Bernie Sanders are similar (55% good thing vs. 38% bad thing).
Registered voters’ perceptions of the personal impact of free trade agreements also are mixed: 42% say free trade agreements have definitely or probably helped the financial situation of their family; about as many (39%) say these agreements have definitely or probably hurt their family’s finances. Overall views on this question are little changed from May 2015, although attitudes have shifted within partisan groups since then.
In the current survey, more Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say free trade agreements have hurt their family’s finances (48%) than say they have helped (36%). In May 2015, about as many Republican voters said they had helped their family’s financial situation (38%) as hurt it (41%). By contrast, views among Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters in the current survey (48% helped vs. 32% hurt) are slightly more positive than they were in May 2015 (43% helped vs. 38% hurt).
As with views of the impact of free trade agreements on the country overall, Trump supporters are much more likely than Cruz or Kasich supporters to say free trade has hurt their own personal financial situation. By a 60% to 26% margin, more Republicans who support Trump for their party’s presidential nomination say free trade agreements have definitely or probably hurt their family’s finances than definitely or probably helped. Far fewer Kasich (42% helped vs. 42% hurt) or Cruz (45% helped vs. 36% hurt) supporters think free trade agreements have hurt the financial situation of their own family.
Among Democratic voters, supporters of Clinton take a slightly more positive view of free trade’s impact on their personal finances than supporters of Sanders. About half of Democratic voters who support Hillary Clinton (51%) say trade agreements have helped their finances, while fewer (29%) say they have hurt their finances. Among Sanders supporters, 36% say free trade agreements have hurt their family’s finances, compared with 46% who say they have helped.
Views of U.S. efforts to solve problems around the world
When it comes to U.S. engagement with global problems, a majority of registered voters see the U.S. as having a positive impact. Six-in-ten (60%) say problems in the world would be even worse without U.S. involvement, while 34% say that U.S. efforts to solve problems around the world usually end up making things worse. Majorities of Republican (65%) and Democratic (58%) voters say U.S. global efforts usually do more good than harm.
Among Democrats, there is a divide in opinion about the impact of U.S. global involvement between Sanders and Clinton supporters. Two-thirds (66%) of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters who support Hillary Clinton say that problems in the world would be even worse without U.S. involvement, compared with just 28% who say U.S. efforts usually make things worse. By contrast, about as many Sanders supporters say U.S. efforts to solve world problems usually end up making things worse (45%) as say problems in the world would be even worse without U.S. involvement (49%).
Among Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, 72% of Cruz supporters and 70% of Kasich supporters say that problems in the world would be even worse without U.S. involvement; a narrower majority of Trump supporters (57%) also takes this view.
Role of government divides parties, not candidates’ supporters
Republican and Democratic registered voters continue to express fundamentally different views on the role of government in this country.
About three-quarters of Republican voters (76%) say government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals, while just 22% say government should do more to solve problems. Democratic voters want a bigger role for government: 65% say it should do more to solve problems, compared with just 30% who say it is doing too much better left to business and individuals.
The preference for a government that does less is shared by large majorities of Republican supporters of Kasich (81%), Cruz (79%) and Trump (73%).
On the Democratic side, similar majorities of Sanders supporters (68%) and Clinton (66%) supporters say government should do more to solve problems.