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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Public Polarized Over How to Deal with Washington Gridlock

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dems more willing to compromise than GOPers

Pres. Barack Obama has now laid out his plans for the coming year.  The question remains whether political polarization in Washington and throughout the country will stymie those efforts and lead to more gridlock.  The Al Jazeera America/Monmouth University Poll finds that most Americans believe an aversion to compromise in D.C. is a major stumbling block to progress – unless perhaps it is their own partisan principles that are being called into question.

According to the poll, both the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party agree that ideological activists have too much power, but conservatives still feel that elected officials don’t stand by their principles enough.  On the other hand, Democrats, regardless of their ideological bent, are less likely than Republicans to feel that the parties’ base activists hold too much sway and they are much more concerned about the lack of compromise in Washington than they are by the lack of principled stands.  Of course, Democrats are now in the minority in both houses of Congress.

More Americans say that elected officials being unwilling to compromise (54%) is a bigger problem for the federal government than representatives who won’t stand up for their principles (36%).  There is a significant partisan divide in this opinion.  More than two-thirds (71%) of Democrats and a majority (52%) of independents lament the lack of compromise in Washington.  Republicans, though, are more likely to say that an unwillingness to stick to one’s principles (49%) is a bigger problem in D.C. today than an unwillingness to compromise (40%).  Tea Party supporters are even more likely to say that Washington’s problems stem more from a lack of principle (57%) than a lack of compromise (37%).

The poll found some interesting regional difference in this opinion suggesting that the prevailing political culture in one’s state may play a role in the typical voter’s willingness to accept compromise from their party’s federal representatives.  Residents of twenty “swing” or competitive states – where the winning margin for president in 2012 was less than 12 percentage points – are more likely to say the lack of compromise (57%) is a bigger problem in Washington than the lack of principled stands (34%).  This break in opinion is similar in states that Obama won by more than 12 points – more “blue” state residents see the lack of compromise (60%) as a bigger problem than lack of principles (30%).  In “red” states that went solidly for Mitt Romney, more residents see a lack of principles (50%) as the federal government’s bigger problem than say it is the lack of compromise (41%).

Democrats who live in swing (80%), blue (65%) and red (57%) largely see a lack of compromise as the bigger failing in Washington.  Republicans who live in swing (51%) and red (56%) states see lack of principled stands as the bigger problem, but Republicans living among Democratic majorities in blue states are more likely to point to the lack of compromise (51%).  Independents living in swing (53%) and blue (61%) states are more likely to bemoan the lack of compromise in D.C., but independents living in red states are more concerned about elected officials not standing up for their principles (55%) at levels similar to their Republican neighbors in those states.

The poll also asked about the influence of activists who form the ideological base of each party.  Four-in-ten (40%) say these activists have too much influence over members of Congress compared to 27% who say they have too little influence and just 19% who say they have the right amount of influence.  Another 15% are not sure how much sway activists in the partisan base hold over Congress.

Republicans (47%) and independents (44%) are more likely than Democrats (28%) to feel the parties’ base voters carry too much weight in Congress.  Democrats (36%) are somewhat more likely than independents (25%) and Republicans (22%) to feel that the base does not have enough influence.

Similarly, self-described conservatives (47%) are more likely than moderates (39%) and liberals (30%) to feel the base has too much influence in Washington.  Those who either support (46%) or oppose (49%) the Tea Party are more likely than Americans who are neutral about the Tea Party (35%) to say that the base has too much power over Congress.

“Partisans seem to be schizophrenic about political polarization.  Democrats want to see more influence from the base but also want greater compromise.  Conservatives want their elected leaders to stick to their principles, but believe the base holds too much sway,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, which conducted the Al Jazeera America/Monmouth University Poll.  “One question this raises is whether conservatives think of themselves as the GOP base or if they are worried about the Tea Party wing’s ascendance.  These mixed messages underscore the difficulty of reaching compromise in Washington.  It’s no wonder our government is beset by gridlock”

The Al Jazeera America/Monmouth University Poll asked Republicans and Democrats how willing they would be to see their respective party’s members in Congress compromise on nine different policy areas.  In nearly all cases, a majority of partisans said they would be at least somewhat willing to see their side compromise, although Democrats are more likely than Republicans to feel this way on most issues.

Specifically, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be at least somewhat willing to have their party’s Congressional caucus compromise on the national debt (79% Dem compared to 60% GOP), health care (73% Dem to 61% GOP), taxes (79% Dem to 68% GOP), immigration (71% Dem to 56% GOP), and gun ownership (60% Dem to just 48% GOP).  Partisans from both sides of the aisle are more likely to see eye to eye on compromise around education (80% Dem to 74% GOP), defense spending (72% Dem to 69% GOP), energy production (74% Dem to 75% GOP), and Social Security (72% Dem to 68% GOP).

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- Monmouth University Polling Institute