January 29, 2009

Dems’ Favorability Advantage Widens

Views of Congress Negative, More Polarized

As Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress battle over President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds the Democratic Party with a vast favorability advantage over the GOP. More than six-in-ten Americans (62%) say they have a positive opinion of the Democratic Party, compared with 40% who say they have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party.

The current Democratic favorability advantage is the largest measured in nearly two decades. The widening gap is primarily a result of an increase in favorable views of the Democratic Party since the election, up from 57% in late October 2008. In December 1994, following the Republican takeover in Congress, the GOP held a 17-point advantage, that party’s largest. Two-thirds (67%) said they had a positive opinion of the Republican Party and 50% had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party after the 1994 election.

The survey, conducted Jan. 7-11 among 1,503 adults on cell phones and landlines, finds that the Democratic Party is currently seen more favorably than the Republican Party among nearly every demographic group. Even among white evangelical Protestants, who are some of the most loyal supporters of the Republican Party, opinions about the two parties are about even. Fully half of white evangelicals have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party and about the same number (48%) say they have a positive opinion of the GOP.

A solid majority of Republicans continues to give their own party high marks; nearly three-quarters (74%) say they have a positive view of the Republican Party. Yet, this is considerably smaller than the share of Democrats who express favorable opinions of the Democratic Party (90%). Nearly six-in-ten independents (58%) express positive opinions of the Democratic Party, compared with 38% who say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party.

Congress Viewed Unfavorably

While the Democratic Party enjoys high favorability, the public continues to express negative opinions of the Democratic-led Congress. Just 40% say they have a favorable opinion of Congress, while 52% have an unfavorable opinion. Views of Congress have changed little since last May (41% favorable), but the current favorability measure is the lowest recorded in a Pew Research survey.

Opinions of Congress have become increasingly polarized. Six-in-ten Democrats (60%) express a favorable opinion of Congress, up from 54% last May. Positive views of Congress among Republicans have declined by 11 points over this period (from 34% to 23%). About a third of independents view Congress favorably (32%), which is little changed from last May (35%).