The Republican Party’s image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).
The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans’ midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.
Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago. About two-thirds (68%) express a favorable opinion of their party, the lowest share in more than two years. Six months ago, 86% of Republicans viewed the GOP positively.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 14-20, 2015 among 2,002 adults, finds little change in more specific perceptions of the two parties.
As has been the case over the past four years, the Republican Party is viewed as more extreme in its positions than the Democratic Party. Currently, 52% say the GOP is more extreme, compared with 35% who say this better describes the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party continues to hold wide advantages over the Republicans on empathy and honesty. By 53% to 31%, the Democratic Party is viewed as “more concerned with the needs of people like me.” And the Democrats hold a 16-point lead on governing in an honest and ethical way (45% to 29%).
On issues, the Democratic Party holds double-digit advantages as better able to handle the environment (by a margin of 53% to 27%), abortion and contraception policies (50% to 31%), education (46% to 34%) and health care (46% to 36%). The Republican Party has wide leads for better reflecting people’s views on gun control (48% to 36%) and dealing with the terrorist threat at home (44% to 34%).
In some cases, such as terrorism and foreign policy, the Republicans have lost ground since January. There has been little change in views of the parties on other major issues, including the economy and immigration. Neither party holds a significant advantage on these issues.
The survey finds little change in Barack Obama’s job approval: 48% approve of the way he is handling his job as president while 45% disapprove. Obama’s rating fell into negative territory at the end of last year, but has been mixed since January.
How Republicans View Their Party
Recent Pew Research Center surveys have found signs of dissatisfaction with the GOP among Republicans. In May, just 41% of Republicans said they approved of the job performance of the leaders of the GOP-led Congress. In 2011, after Republicans had won control of the House, 60% of Republicans approved of the job being done by their party’s leaders in Congress.
The current survey finds that positive views of the GOP among Republicans have declined 18 percentage points since January, from 86% to 68%. Independents also view the Republican Party less favorably; 29% today, compared with 37% six months ago.
Democrats, by contrast, continue to express highly positive opinions of their party: 86% view the party favorably, little changed from 84% in January. Independents’ views of the Democratic Party also are unchanged since January, at 38%.
Eroding Republican Advantage on Key Issues
The advantage the Republican Party had on a number of major issues has eroded since earlier this year. On foreign policy, taxes, policies about abortion and contraception, and terrorism the Democratic Party has improved its position since February.
The Democratic Party’s advantage on abortion and contraception has increased 16 points since February; currently 50% say Democrats could do the better job dealing with policies on abortion and contraception, while just 31% say the GOP could. Though these ratings reflect a shift from February (when the parties ran even on this issue), the edge Democrats now hold is similar to its advantage in October 2014.
Five months ago Republicans were seen by more Americans as the party better able to handle foreign policy (48% said Republicans, 35% Democrats); today, the public is equally likely to say Republicans (38%) as Democrats (41%) could better handle foreign policy. And while the GOP maintains a 10-point advantage as the party better able to address the terrorist threat at home (44% vs. 34%), that edge has narrowed since earlier this year.
Over the last two years, the Republican Party has opened a gap over the Democratic Party when it comes to views about which party better reflects Americans’ views about gun control. In May 2013, following months of debate about gun policy, the public was divided over which party could better deal with gun control. Today, the GOP holds a 13-point edge on this issue.
Democrats Hold Edge on Health Care, Neither Party Has Advantage on Economy, Immigration
Health care remains an issue that favors the Democratic Party. Currently 46% prefer the Democratic Party on health care, while 36% prefer the GOP. The Democratic Party has maintained an advantage on this issue for much of the last several years. Democrats also enjoy a 12-point edge on education policy (46% vs. 34%). And on the environment, the public favors Democrats by about two-to-one (53% say the Democratic Party could do the better job, 27% say the GOP).
Americans continue to be divided over which party would do a better job handling the economy. Today, 44% say Democrats could do the better job, while nearly as many (41%) say Republicans could do the better job. Neither party has held a significant edge on this issue over the last year. Last July, the Republicans held an eight-point advantage (47% vs. 39%) on the economy.
The parties also run even on the budget deficit and immigration, little changed since October of last year. The public has been split over which party is better able to handle immigration for the last several years.
There remain substantial divides by age and race over which party is better on immigration. The Democratic Party holds the edge on this issue among Americans under 50, 48% of whom say it could do the better job on immigration, while just 36% say the GOP. In contrast, the GOP performs better among those over 50 on immigration: 44% say it would do the better job, while 35% say the Democratic Party.
Whites favor the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by a 10-point margin on immigration, while both African-Americans (by 36 points) and Hispanics (by 29 points) are more likely to say the Democratic Party is better able to handle this issue.
Yet there are substantial divides within whites. While white women are roughly evenly split over which party can better address immigration (39% say Democrats, 40% Republicans), white men favor the GOP by a 20-point margin (51% vs. 31%).
And among whites with college degrees, the Democratic Party holds a slim edge (46% to 38%), while those without college degrees favor the GOP on immigration: 50% vs. 26% among those who have not attended college and 46% vs. 34% among those who have some college experience.
Overall, independents are divided over which party could do the better job addressing immigration (38% say each party). As with most issues, partisans overwhelmingly say their own party could do better the better job on this issue.
Democratic Party Viewed More Positively Than GOP on Key Traits
The Democratic Party continues to enjoy an advantage on a number of key traits and qualities, and these views are little changed since last fall. By a 22-point margin, more say the Democratic Party is “more concerned with the needs of people like me.” The Democratic Party has held a similar-sized lead on this trait since 2011, and at least a double-digit edge going back to when this question was first asked more than 25 years ago in 1988.
The Democratic Party also leads the Republican Party as the party that governs in a more honest and ethical way (45% vs. 29%). This balance of opinion is also little changed over the last few years.
As it has been since 2013, the public is divided over which party can best manage the federal government: 41% say the Democratic Party, while 40% say the GOP.
And more Americans identify the Republican Party as “more extreme in its positions” (52% say this, while 35% say the Democratic Party). This view is little changed since 2011.
Views of Congress continue to hover near record lows: Just 25% of Americans view Congress favorably, while 69% say they have an unfavorable opinion.
Although the GOP now controls both the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats hold similar views of Congress: 29% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans rate it favorably. By comparison, Democratic ratings of Congress were consistently higher than Republicans’ ratings when Democrats controlled both chambers from 2007 to 2010.
Republican ratings of Congress are little changed since last summer, but Democratic ratings – which had grown more negative following the 2014 election – have rebounded somewhat (up seven percentage points since March).
Independents’ opinions of Congress are more negative than those in either party. Just 22% say they have a favorable view of Congress, relatively unchanged in recent months.
Views of Barack Obama
Obama’s job approval rating is little changed over the first half of 2015, with Americans about equally likely to say they approve of his performance (48%) as disapprove (45%).
Currently, about eight-in-ten Republicans (82%) disapprove of Obama’s performance, while views among independents remain mixed (48% disapprove, 44% approve). Obama continues to receive positive ratings from about eight-in-ten Democrats (79% approve, 16% disapprove). Ratings of Obama among partisans and independents are relatively unchanged over the last year.
Obama’s approval ratings continue to differ by generation, with younger generations more likely to view his job performance positively. Currently 55% of Millennials (those now ages 18-34) approve of his job performance, as do half of Generation Xers (those 35 to 50). By comparison, 44% of Baby Boomers (51 to 69 year olds) approve of Obama, along with just 37% of those in the Silent Generation (currently ages 70 to 87).
On five issues included in the survey, Obama gets a positive net rating on one: race relations. About half (48%) approve of his handling of race relations, while 43% disapprove. The public holds mixed views on Obama’s handling of health care policy (46% approve, 50% disapprove), the economy (45% approve, 51% disapprove) and global climate change (41% approve, 39% disapprove).
Obama’s performance on foreign policy remains in negative territory, and is little changed over the past few years: Just 38% now approve of how Obama is handling the nation’s foreign policy, while 52% say they disapprove.
While there has been little change in Obama’s approval ratings on many issues in the last year, his rating on health care policy has improved since December: Today, 46% approve of his handling of health care, up from 39%.
Obama’s rating on health care policy has improved across many political and demographic groups, but the change is particularly pronounced among those under 30: In December, 37% of 18-29 year olds approved of Obama’s handling of health care policy; currently 52% approve.
Obama on Foreign Policy: ‘Not Tough Enough’ for Many Americans
Just over half of Americans (53%) continue to say that Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security is “not tough enough”; 37% say he handles these matters about right, while just 4% say he is too tough. These attitudes are virtually unchanged since November 2013.
Republicans are far more critical of Obama’s approach to foreign policy than Democrats or independents. Eight-in-ten Republicans (80%) say he is not tough enough, compared with 54% of independents and just 32% of Democrats. Most Democrats (58%), along with about a third of independents (34%) say his approach is about right.