Americans, who voted for a divided government in November, say they want the parties to work together, with a majority opposing at all costs any federal shutdown over budget matters, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.
By a 3-to-2 margin, respondents say they wouldn’t support the kind of impasse that brought the federal government to a halt in 1995, when President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans couldn’t agree on a budget. An even higher 9 out of 10 say they want Democrats and Republicans in Congress to cooperate to solve the nation’s problems, according to the poll conducted Dec. 4-7.
The Republican Party, a month after an electoral triumph that netted 63 seats and control of the U.S. House, gains in the U.S. Senate, and increases in state offices, remains unpopular, with a plurality having a negative view. Democrats do slightly better: A plurality have a favorable impression of that party.
“If Republicans are seen as blocking for the sake of blocking, they will test the public’s patience,” says J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey.
President Barack Obama is more popular than either party, with 52 percent of Americans holding a favorable view, compared with 44 percent unfavorable. In an October poll, 55 percent held a positive opinion and 40 percent a negative one.
Even so, respondents are divided over whether the president deserves re-election in 2012, with 42 percent saying yes, 45 percent saying no, and 13 percent saying they’re unsure or it depends on the alternatives.
Obama’s re-election numbers are higher than those Clinton had two years into his first term, in a Gallup poll. In October 1994, 38 percent said he was worthy of a second term. He won in 1996 with 49 percent of the vote.
The desire to see the parties work together is reflected in poll respondents’ view of a fight in Congress over a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia. More than 6-in-10 say the U.S. should ratify the agreement. Republican leaders have stalled consideration of the measure, vowing to block passage of any bill until Congress takes up legislation extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government operating.
While 56 percent say Congress should avoid a federal government shutdown, 38 percent say they would support it if lawmakers reach an impasse on budget issues.
“If the government shuts down, a lot of things are affected and a lot of people would be put in a bad situation,” says poll respondent Ryan Galloway, 30, a wounded Iraq War veteran who lives in Georgetown, Texas. “If it was just Congress shutting down, I wouldn’t care about that because they don’t get anything done anyway.”
In the poll, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to want lawmakers to stick rigidly to principles instead of compromising and working with the other party, with 19 percent supporting that view, compared with 3 percent of Democrats.
This may pose a dilemma for Republicans who ran on a platform of change and even confrontation. Respondents who identify with the Tea Party movement were most likely to say they wanted the parties to keep to their principles, though even in that group this was the minority view, held by 25 percent.
‘Solve the Problems’
“Nothing is ever going to be accomplished if everyone just digs their heels in,” says poll respondent Patricia Jarvis, 52, an independent voter and middle-school teacher who lives in Semmes, Alabama. “The whole point of the Congress is for everyone to come together and solve the problems of the country and achieve a suitable solution.”
With the exception of U.S. relations with other countries, more Americans disapprove than approve of Obama’s performance on virtually every aspect of his job, from dealing with the economy and creating jobs to health care. He receives the lowest marks on his handling of the budget deficit, where 60 percent disapprove. Overall, 47 percent approve of his performance as president, while 48 percent disapprove.
Obama, 49, inherited an economy gripped by the deepest recession since the Great Depression. While a recovery is taking hold -- showing 3.2 percent growth over the past year -- unemployment rose to a seven-month high of 9.8 percent in November, significantly above the 7.4 percent rate that prevailed in December 2008, the month before Obama was inaugurated.
The stock market has performed much better. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index has risen 45 percent since Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama was sworn in.
Hillary Clinton’s Popularity
Still, the president has the highest favorability rating for any politician or political group tested in the poll, with the exception of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is viewed favorably by 65 percent.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, is viewed favorably by just 33 percent.
Republican Representative John Boehner of Ohio, who will become House speaker in January, is viewed favorably by 30 percent of respondents, while a plurality -- 48 percent -- say they don’t know enough about him to render an opinion. As Boehner has received more media attention, his favorability has increased while his unfavorability has declined, compared with the Bloomberg poll in early October, when he had a 26 percent favorability rating.
Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, the current House speaker, is viewed favorably by 31 percent, while 48 percent rate her unfavorably. Those numbers are largely unchanged from October. Former President George W. Bush also continues to be viewed negatively, with 57 percent holding an unfavorable view.
Unemployment Top Issue
On issues facing the nation, unemployment and jobs remains the top concern for most, with 50 percent naming that as their top issue.
A quarter of poll participants list the federal deficit and government spending, with other issues attracting relatively little attention. The budget deficit totaled $1.29 trillion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
Nine out of 10 poll participants say they want the federal budget to be balanced in 20 years. There is greater division over other possible items on the legislative agendas of both parties.
The Republican goal of repealing the health-care overhaul passed earlier this year is supported by 55 percent, the poll shows. Three-quarters support passage of a comprehensive immigration law and half want a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a woman and man.
Two-thirds oppose cutting corporate taxes, though 6 in 10 support cuts to individual taxes. Almost 6 in 10 support the extension of unemployment benefits to those who have been out of work longer than 99 weeks, a provision included in a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts Obama made with congressional Republicans this week.
The Tea Party, which helped propel Republicans to their historic gains last month, is viewed favorably by 37 percent and unfavorably by 41 percent, with 22 percent unsure. About a quarter of poll participants say they support the movement.
The majority of Americans -- 57 percent -- expect Tea Party candidates elected to Congress will start compromising to get things done, while 32 percent expect them to remain true to their principles.
The poll, based on interviews with 1,000 U.S. adults age 18 or older, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
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