November 7, 2014

Why can’t we all get along? Challenges ahead for bipartisan cooperation

President Obama and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hold their first post-election meeting on Friday.
(Obama photo via AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin; McConnell via AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Obama today sits down with Republican leaders after their big Election Day victories handed them control of the Senate and more seats in the House. Both Obama and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed hope that the two parties would find a way to work together to get things done in Obama’s last two years.

Both leaders mentioned international trade deals, tax reform and budget policy as areas of potential agreement, but there remain big gaps between both parties on key issues that are higher on the list of the public’s concerns. And in addition to the partisan divide, Republicans, in particular, face sharp differences in their own ranks on several issues.

Here’s the lay of the land:


Obama repeated on Wednesday that he intended to move ahead with an executive order to make changes in the immigration system. Tuesday’s exit polls showed a huge gap between those voting Democratic and Republican on the question of whether unauthorized immigrants working in the U.S. should be deported or offered a chance for legal status. About three-quarters (74%) of those who said they should be deported voted Republican and 23% supported Democrats, while 64% of those who favored a chance for legal status supported Democrats and 34% voted Republican.

The extent of this gap also emerged in a Pew Research Center poll conducted in August which found that more Republicans said the priority should be on better border security and stricter law enforcement than on an approach that also includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. By contrast, 45% of Democrats said both objectives should have equal priority and 33% wanted to put the focus on a path to citizenship.

Partisan divides over immigration policy.

If the partisan divides were not enough, Republicans face deep divisions in their own ranks about the way forward on the issue — something that was starkly evident in the 2012 fight for the GOP presidential nomination when, with an eye on conservative activists most likely to vote, candidates battled over who was tougher on the issue. Pew Research’s Political Typology study, based on a survey conducted earlier this year, found evidence that this ideological divide within the GOP continues.

Looming over all of this is Obama’s vow to enact immigration law changes by executive order if Congress will not act, something McConnell likened on Wednesday to “waving a red flag in front of a bull” as far as Republicans were concerned. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in September found mixed support among the public about whether Obama should forge ahead: 52% said he should while 44% said he shouldn’t.


After the election, McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner said the Republican agenda included “renewing our commitment to repeal Obamacare.” House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to do this. Even though Republicans now control the Senate as well, there’s little chance that they could produce a filibuster-proof vote to override an Obama veto. While the health law has resulted in millions of Americans getting coverage, the partisan divide on the issue persists: Tuesday’s exit polls found that 83% of those who believe the health care law went too far voted Republican and 14% voted for the Democrats. Only 19% of those who thought the law was about right voted Republican and 80% voted Democratic. Conversely, 78% of those who thought it didn’t go far enough sided with the Democrats and 19% voted Republican.

Most Republicans want their representatives to repeal Obamacare, while most Democrats and independents would rather see their lawmakers work to improve the lawA Kaiser Health Tracking Poll conducted in October found that 65% of Republicans would rather see their representative work to repeal and replace it compared with 33% who favored keeping the law and working to improve it. By contrast, 86% of Democrats want to see their representative work to improve the law while just 12% favor scrapping it.

Keystone Pipeline

Most Americans support construction of Keystone Pipeline, but Democrats are dividedIn a Wall Street Journal column, McConnell and Boehner said their agenda would include passing a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision that Obama put off until after the election. A New York Times story described this as potentially “fertile ground” for Republicans to strike a deal with Democrats who have differed with the White House on the issue.

Pew Research surveys have consistently shown strong public support for building the pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, with 61% of Americans favoring it. Fully 84% of Republicans want to see the pipeline built, but Democrats are more divided, with 49% in favor and 38% opposed.


Democrats and Independents say the wealthy don't pay their fair share of taxes.Although our polls have found broad public unhappiness with the tax system, tax reform has not ranked high on the list of the publics’ priorities in our surveys. Our last in-depth look at the subject, in a 2011 survey, found that while majorities of Republicans (60%) and Democrats (55%) agree there is so much wrong with the system that Congress should change it, they come at the issue with very different perspectives. Democrats overwhelmingly (73%) point to the share wealthy people pay as the biggest concern, while many Republicans (42%) identify the complexity of the system as the biggest problem.


Republicans and Democrats are divided in views of two major trade pacts: TIPP and TPPAmericans overall are lukewarm about the two major trade deals under negotiation – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S., and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade deal between the U.S., Canada and 10 Asian-Pacific countries. About half (53%) of Americans see TTIP as a good thing and 55% say the same about TPP. Democratic support for both treaties is stronger than that of Republicans: 60% of Democrats see TTIP as a good thing compared with 44% of Republicans, while 59% of Democrats look favorably on TPP compared with 49% of Republicans.

While there may be the possibility of agreement here, the issue is not one of high importance to Americans who usually rank global trade near the bottom of the list in our annual January surveys of the public’s priorities.


Any look at potential areas of agreement between the parties as well as their ability to overcome areas of strong disagreement has to start with a consideration of how bitterly partisan the political environment has been for a while now. A key finding from our survey this year on polarization was how much the antipathy between the parties had deepened and become more extensive. More than one-third (36%) of Republicans saw the Democrats not only as opponents, but as a threat to the nation’s well-being, and 27% of Democrats said the same of the GOP. Those kinds of sentiments were reflected in the exit polls on Tuesday, which found 93% of those who described themselves as feeling “angry” about the Obama administration were Republican supporters and 84% of those “angry” at Republican congressional leaders sided with the Democrats.

Topics: Energy and Environment, Globalization and Trade, Immigration, Unauthorized Immigration, Health Care, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Party Affiliation, Taxes, Political Typology, Political Polarization

  1. Photo of Bruce Drake

    is a senior editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. Blake3 years ago

    Support for a pathway to citizenship does not equal support for using executive orders to accomplish that goal.

  2. Alan MacDonald3 years ago

    ‘Bipartisanship’ — I just love it!

    Bipartisanship: that’s where after both Vichy parties pretend to fight like WWF phony wrestlers “for the people”, both phony parties sit down to an expensive lunch and agree not to prosecute each other and to continue the dual-party Vichy-political charade for another (s)election cycle working very hard for the very same Disguised Global Empire that ‘poses’ as our former country.

  3. wavettore3 years ago

    It must be funny for some to see everyone rushing to the right and to the left, running political campaigns and elections when they already know that everything is fixed right from the start. Why these masquerades when it is clear that Jeb Bush will be at the White House in 2016 and all the promises made by these State politicians will hold no value? Today a widespread turmoil and a growing social discontent should be viewed in a larger context and not simply within the walls of local politics. We are now experiencing one of the stages of a World conspiracy and wherever you are in the World you are also part of it. Don’t let the media fool you. The conspiracy is not a theory. With 2.3 trillion dollars officially declared missing by the Bush administration one day before 9/11 and 2 more trillions stolen between the “Savings and Loan” affair and Enron a few Zionists like the Bush family and Dov Zakheim are now waiting for the total collapse of the world financial system and a World War of Religions. They maneuver from behind the scene to generate terror, chaos and despair in all places setting an idyllic stage for the next big surprise, one New World Order that was invoked for the first time by the father and will be announced by the son and next US president Jeb Bush. From ISIS to Al Qaeda how could anyone still believe the story of Osama bin Laden? The short memory of the people works wonders for the Zionists. Perhaps a few will still remember when George W. Bush told the terrorized US citizens to seal their windows with duct tape to protect from an imminent chemical attack. An irony like this can tell a story. The next day on the shelves of the stores all over the US there was no more duct tape for sale. But a recent revelation should soon come back to mind and clarify any possible inquiry: —Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in an interview with the Daily Beast, Sept. 16 “Here’s the problem. He [Sen. John McCain] did meet with ISIS, and had his picture taken, and didn’t know it was happening at the time”. This picture is the obvious evidence that the World conspiracy is not a theory. The chief of ISIS is that same Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who spent time in a US prison and in a meeting with Mc Cain before being released in 2009. There is no doubt that the Zionists and their counter terrorist agencies have all the means to enlist and pay well mercenaries of all Countries and Islamic extremists without having to show their face or their wallet.

    Once you recognized the objective of the Conspiracy all the rest will be easy to comprehend and to foresee. Besides, it will make no more sense to continue to play Monopoly when somebody has already stolen all the money.

  4. Packard Day3 years ago

    I do not believe the recent mid-term elections were about advancing any Republican agenda. There was none. The only discernable variable that all of the candidates seemed to agree on was the value (or lack thereof) of Barack Obama, his administration, and his policies…. In this environment, the concept of wishing Washington could only “work together,” may be as simple or as hard as ending the incompetence and corruption now on display in managing our federal government (e.g. IRS, VA, DOJ, CDC, HHS, Secret Service, Homeland Security, NSA, Perjury before congress by US Attorney General Eric Holder & DNI Director James Clapper, State Department, Benghazi, Fast&Furious, stimulus accountability, SEC, etc, etc, etc,). It was not always like this.