October 4, 2010

Most See Washington Dominated By Partisan Conflict

Lower Ratings for Leaders of Both Parties in Congress

One month before the midterm elections, Americans offer harsh judgments on Republicans and Democrats in Washington with roughly three-quarters saying partisans have been bickering more than usual and approval ratings for leaders of both parties in Congress matching long-time lows.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 3 among 1,002 adults, finds that 77% say that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been bickering and opposing one another more than usual. Just 8% say they have been working together more.

The percentage saying Republicans and Democrats have been bickering more than usual tops the 72% that said this in October 1995, when partisan fighting over the federal budget eventually led to government shutdown. At that point, 21% said the parties were working together.

The public’s perceptions have worsened significantly since early last year. In January 2009, when asked about the prospect for bipartisanship in the coming year, fully 50% said they expected Republicans and Democrats to work together more while 39% said they expected increased partisan bickering. But by April 2009, the public was already gloomy about the state of partisan relations: just 25% said the parties were working together more than usual, while 53% said they were bickering and opposing one another more. Since then, assessments have worsened. Only about a third as many people now see the two parties cooperating as did so then.

There is widespread partisan agreement that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been fighting more than usual. Currently, nearly equal percentages of Republicans (80%), Democrats (80%) and independents (78%) say that partisans in Washington are bickering and opposing one another more than usual.

Lower Ratings for Leaders of Both Parties in Congress

Job approval ratings for both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress are down slightly from mid-summer. Though Republicans may be poised for major gains in the House and Senate in the midterm elections, just 24% of the public approves of the job being done by the party’s leaders in Congress.

That is down from 33% in July, and equals a low measured at about the same time last year. Disapproval stands at 60%, matching the number from one year ago. Shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009, approval of Republican leaders stood at 34%.

Job performance ratings for Democratic leaders also have slipped since the start of the Obama administration (from 48% approval in February 2009 to 30% currently). In July, that rating stood at 35%. Still, going into the campaign’s final weeks Democrats’ approval ratings are modestly higher than the ratings for Republican leaders.

About six-in-ten Democrats (62%) and Republicans (57%) say they approve of their own party’s leaders, while few independents approve of either group. There is little change since July in the percentage of Republicans who approve of their leaders (60% then), but fewer Democrats than in July approve of their party’s leaders in Congress (74% in July vs. 62% now).

Currently, just 19% of independents say they approve of Republican leaders’ performance and 21% say they approve of Democratic leaders’ performance. In July, 26% of independents approved of the GOP leaders and 25% approved of Democratic leaders.

Nine-in-ten Republicans say they disapprove of the job being done by Democratic leaders in Congress, while 82% of Democrats disapprove of the job being done by GOP leaders. Among independents, 64% give a negative performance rating to the GOP leaders, while 60% disapprove of the job being done by Democratic leaders.

Views of Congressional Accomplishments

Public views of Congress’ accomplishments have changed little since June. Today, 36% say Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses, 37% say it has accomplished about as much and 20% say it has accomplished more.

The 36% of Americans who now say Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses is comparable to the proportions in both October 1994 (36%) and October 2006 (39%), when assessments of congressional accomplishments were relatively negative. However, the percentage of Americans who now say Congress has accomplished more than other recent Congresses (20%) is also relatively high compared to other past midterm cycles. Significantly more now say Congress has accomplished more than previous Congresses than did so in the fall of 1994 (10%), 2002 (11%) or 2006 (6%); in 1998, 24% said this.

Views of Congressional accomplishments differ considerably by party. A majority of Republicans (54%) say Congress has accomplished less than usual, 31% say its accomplishments are on par with other recent years, while just 9% say this Congress has accomplished more than most. By contrast, Democrats are more divided: 37% say Congress has accomplished about the same amount compared to other recent
Congresses, 33% say it has accomplished more than most, and just 24% say it has accomplished less than most.

In 2006, when Republicans controlled Congress, partisan assessments were the reverse; Democrats were substantially more likely than Republicans to say Congress had accomplished less than usual.

Republicans and Democrats also differ in their reasons for saying that Congress has accomplished less than usual. By about two-to-one, Republicans who think Congress has accomplished less say this is more because they think Congress has done the wrong things than because it has not done enough (36% vs. 15%). By contrast, most Democrats who say this Congress has accomplished less than usual say it is more because it has not done enough (18%) rather than because it has done the wrong things (5%).

Independents are about equally likely to say that Congress has accomplished less than usual (38%) as to say congressional accomplishments are about the same as usual (40%); 18% say Congress has accomplished more than usual. Those who say Congress has accomplished less are divided in their assessment of why (19% of independents say it is because Congress has done the wrong things, 16% say it is because Congress has not done enough).

View the topline and survey methodology at people-press.org.