High Marks for Political Institutions
The public has generally high regard for major governmental institutions – even those, like the Supreme Court and FBI – that have recently been dogged by controversy. As in the past, the U.S. military is widely popular, with better than eight-in-ten rating it favorably.
Seven-in-ten have a positive impression of the Supreme Court, virtually unchanged from January (68%). There are signs that Democratic anger over the high court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore has subsided, though a partisan gap in favorability still exists. Today, 70% of Democrats have a favorable view of the high court, up from 62% in January. Eight-in-ten Republicans feel favorably toward the Supreme Court, which is unchanged since January.
Despite some recent miscues and the discovery of a major spy working within its ranks, most Americans (61%) have retained a favorable opinion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That represents a decline from 71% in 1999, but the rating is in keeping with the FBI’s marks for the past six years.
After a sharp decline between January and March, public opinion toward Congress has leveled off since spring. A solid majority (57%) say they have a favorable opinion of Congress, about the same as in March (56%), but off from the 64% favorable rating Congress received in January. Perhaps reflecting the change in party control of the Senate, favorability among Democrats has risen slightly from March (from 54% to 62%), while the views of Republicans and independents have held steady (currently at 63% and 53% favorable, respectively).
GOP Slipping Among Independents
Much of the falloff in the Republican Party’s favorability – from 56% to 48% since January – is due to a decline among independents. A narrow 46% plurality of independents have a positive view of the Republican Party, down 9% from the beginning of the year. By comparison, independents’ view of the Democratic Party has remained virtually unchanged since January, with 56% expressing a favorable opinion.
At the same time, the poll shows that partisans in both parties are becoming increasingly polarized with respect to their view of the opposing party. Whereas 91% of Democrats expressed a favorable view of their own party in both January and July, the proportion holding a favorable opinion of the Republican party fell from 31% to 22%. The pattern is similar among Republicans. While nine-in-ten feel favorably toward their own party, just 20% say the same about the Democratic Party, down from 33% in January.
The shift in power on Capitol Hill has not changed how most Americans view divided government. A plurality of Americans (42%) say it doesn’t much matter if one party controls the White House and Congress or if the two parties share power. About three-in-ten (31%) favor divided government, while 19% back single-party control of government. Those numbers have barely changed since May, despite the defection of Sen. James Jeffords from the GOP, which tipped control of the Senate to the Democrats. Republicans are more supportive of unified control than Democrats, but this was the case before the Jeffords shift as well.
Nearly half of the public (46%) say that Republicans and Democrats have been bickering more than usual, while 30% say the parties have been working together more to solve problems. Democrats feel somewhat more negative about Congress’ behavior than Republicans.
Partisan Gap on Business, Labor
In general, the public has positive feelings toward corporations, but attitudes turn sharply negative when it comes to specific industries that have lately been targets of criticism – notably, tobacco, oil and health insurance.
About six-in-ten (59%) have a favorable opinion of business corporations, while a narrower majority (51%) say they have a positive view of labor unions. Democrats and Republicans have starkly different views of these institutions. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Democrats feel favorably toward labor unions, a view just 38% of Republicans share. Perhaps not surprisingly, Republicans tend to have a more favorable opinion of business corporations than Democrats, by a 72% to 56% margin.
Big Tobacco Stands Out
Nearly two-thirds (74%) of Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of tobacco companies, with just 20% expressing a favorable view. This is consistent with surveys in recent years. Well-educated Americans have the most critical view of the tobacco industry, as just 12% of college graduates express a favorable opinion. By comparison, 25% of respondents with no more than a high school diploma have a positive view of tobacco companies.
Solid majorities also have a negative view of oil companies and HMOs. Still, despite media attention on rising fuel prices, as well as congressional action on legislation to rein in HMOs, there has been no uptick in negative opinion of these industries. Ratings of oil companies are about the same as last fall, and HMOs are viewed no less favorably than in polls over the past three years.
Favorable opinions of these industries run highest among younger Americans. For example, just 22% of senior citizens feel favorably toward HMOs, compared to 48% of those under 30. There is little partisanship in feelings about HMOs and tobacco companies, but Republicans and Democrats divide in their views of the oil industry, with Democrats expressing strongly negative views (27% favorable, 65% unfavorable) and Republicans more divided (46% favorable, 43% unfavorable).
The public has a somewhat more positive view of pharmaceutical companies, with 48% feeling favorably and 42% unfavorably. But just one-third of seniors have a favorable impression of these companies, compared to 59% of those under 30.
News Media Rated Highly
Despite persistent criticism of the news media, television news outlets and local newspapers are quite popular with the public – much more highly-regarded, in fact, than business corporations generally.
Better than seven-in-ten Americans have favorable impressions of these media. A smaller proportion of Americans rate national newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post favorably, though this is largely because a relatively high number (31%) say they don’t know enough about these papers to offer an opinion.
Republicans tend to be more critical of major news sources than Democrats, particularly at the national level. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (79%) have a favorable view of network TV news, compared to 66% of Republicans. And while 60% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of nationally influential newspapers, just 41% of Republicans share such an opinion.
The public’s opinion of the motion picture and entertainment television industry is more mixed, though still predominantly favorable. While 58% say they have a favorable view of Hollywood, 37% feel unfavorably. This represents an improvement since March, when only 50% said they had a favorable view of the entertainment industry and 46% felt unfavorably.
Whites are far more critical of Hollywood than are minorities. Among whites, 54% have a favorable opinion of the entertainment industry, with 41% holding an unfavorable view. Fully three-quarters of blacks have a positive opinion of this industry, while just 22% feel negatively.
Not surprisingly, Republicans also hold more critical views of the movie and television industries, with fully 52% unfavorable and 44% favorable. By comparison, two-thirds of Democrats hold a favorable view of Hollywood, with just 28% expressing an unfavorable view. Evangelical Protestants are also far more negative than non-evangelicals, Catholics or seculars.
But more than anything else, age is a deciding factor in how people view the entertainment industry. Fully 57% of respondents aged 65 and older have an unfavorable view of the entertainment industry, with just 27% feeling favorably. At the other end of the spectrum, those under 30 are overwhelmingly favorable, by a 78% to 21% margin.
This more critical attitude among older Americans carries over to the news media as well. Regardless of medium, older respondents tend to be less favorable toward news sources than the young. This discrepancy is greatest with respect to both national and local newspapers.
Personal Favorability: Powell at 91%
Secretary of State Colin Powell remains an extraordinarily popular political figure, with better than eight-in-ten (81%) giving Powell a favorable rating. When the sample is limited to those who can rate Powell, his favorability reaches 91%, with 44% rating him very favorably and another 47% rating him mostly favorably.
Powell’s popularity is virtually unchanged since January, when 90% had a favorable impression of the retired general. Similarly, the favorability rating for Powell’s boss – George W. Bush – is also virtually the same as in January (65% then, 64% now, among those who can rate).
However, Vice President Dick Cheney’s personal favorability has declined somewhat, from 78% to 69% among those who can rate him. While Cheney remains overwhelmingly popular with Republicans, his rating has slipped among independents (from 79% in January to 65% today) and Democrats (from 62% to 52%).
Former President Bill Clinton’s favorability has declined markedly. Among those who can rate the former president, Clinton’s favorable marks have fallen from 64% in early January (before the controversy over Clinton’s last-minute pardons) to 52%. Just 15% of Republicans rate Clinton favorably now, down from 30% in January. Sen. Hillary Clinton has also lost favor – from 64% to 56%.
Sen. John McCain’s favorable rating has slipped 10 points since January, from 80% to 70% among those who can rate the Arizona Republican. But McCain continues to generate cross-over appeal – about seven-in-ten Republicans, Democrats and independents all say they have a favorable impression of McCain. About a quarter (27%) say they can’t rate McCain. Like McCain, Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s favorability has declined by 10 points – from 72% to 62%.
The Senate’s new majority leader, Tom Daschle, is still unfamiliar to most of the public. Fully 65% say they can’t rate Daschle; among those who can rate him, 56% have a favorable impression. Similarly, in five years as majority leader, Trent Lott never made a strong impression on most Americans – 52% say they can’t rate the Mississippi Republican. But in contrast to Daschle, a narrow majority (54%) of those who can rate Lott have a negative impression of him.