Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Compromise? Well Maybe

In our most recent poll we asked a few questions about what comes next, now that the election is over and the Republicans will control the U.S. House of Representatives. Well, not surprisingly, New Jersey Democrats and Republicans have differing opinions over what Congress should tackle first. We asked an open ended question about the first thing Congress should "fix", and found a couple interesting results.

Republicans say "fixing" health care reform is the top priority, with 23 percent, while job creation is the first priority for Democrats, mentioned by 25 percent.

The top five issues named - Economy, jobs, health care, tax cuts, and the deficit, were named by 85 percent of all Republicans, and only 67 percent of Democrats. What this suggests is that Republicans are far more focused and unified on what they see as priorities. And for Republicans, jobs are fourth on the list. Interestingly, independents, who leaned strongly Republican in voting (11 points in our survey), agree with the Democrats that jobs are job one.

And given all the focus on the deficit lately in Washington, you'd think the public cares about it. But in fact, they have much higher priorities right now - the deficit comes in a pretty distant fifth on the list.

We also asked the question about whether representatives should compromise or stick to their beliefs. Overall it looks like NJ wants them to compromise to get things done. BUT, and it's a big one, Republicans prefer their representatives stick to their beliefs (50 percent to only 31 percent of Democrats). And Tea Party supporters are even more adamant - 60 percent do not want comprise, while only 36 percent think there should be compromise.

So what does this say? Well, winners don't like to compromise, and clearly the Republicans feel like winners - even if results in NJ were far less earth shattering than elsewhere. Second, Republican legislators may feel pressure to not compromise - given their base's preferences - while Democrats will feel pressured to compromise, since their base is strongly supportive of compromise, as are independents.

The test of the release follows. The complete release with tables is here.

In the Aftermath of 2010 Elections, Republicans Want Congress to Fix Health Care Reform; Democrats Want Job Creation

NEW BRUNSWICK – New Jersey Democrats and Republicans have differing priorities for the new U.S. Congress, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. While Democrats name “jobs” as their top priority, Republicans focus on fixing the health care reform law as the most important task for Congress. Independents, while having favored Republican congressional candidates by 11 points (46 percent to 35 percent voting Democrat) agree with Democrats that jobs are the most important issue that needs to be fixed in the next Congress.

“Republicans and Democrats continue to have different priorities even after all the talk of coming together in compromise to resolve the country’s problems,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Partisans are simply on different wavelengths – for Republicans jobs rank only fourth as a priority, while only one in ten Democrats wants to see health care re-opened.”

The poll of 906 New Jersey adults was conducted December 2-6. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points.

The 2010 Congressional election: Independents continue to lean Republican

Of those interviewed, 64 percent said they voted and could recall the direction of their vote. Partisans did not deviate from their parties: 94 percent of both Democrats and Republicans say they voted for a congressional candidate from their party. Independents, however, continued to lean Republican as they did in last year’s gubernatorial election, with 46 percent of independents voting Republican and 35 percent voting Democrat. A surprising 19 percent of independents said they voted for a third party candidate.

“As is nearly always the case, those who identify with a party voted for a candidate from that party,” said Redlawsk. “But Democrats have to be worried that independent voters continue to show a strong preference for Republican candidates.”

Looking Forward: What Should Congress Do?

Asked in an open-ended question to name the “single most important thing” they would like Congress to “fix” in the upcoming session, 21 percent of New Jersey adults say jobs are most important, while 16 percent say the economy overall should be first. Another 16 percent say health care is the priority, while 12 percent say taxes are too high, and eight percent worry about the budget deficit.

Priorities differ widely by party however. For Democrats, jobs are the clear top priority at 26 percent, followed by the economy in general at 19 percent, and fixing health care at 11 percent. Two other issues – tax cuts and the deficit – each gather the support of 6 percent of Democrats. Republicans, however, put fixing health care at the top of their list, at 23 percent, followed by the economy (20 percent), tax cuts (18 percent), jobs (15 percent), and the budget deficit (11 percent). Independents share both parties’ priorities, though jobs (20 percent) are at the top of their list, followed by health care (15 percent), tax cuts (13 percent), the economy (11 percent) and the budget deficit (8 percent).

Redlawsk cited two key findings from the survey. “First, Republicans are just less concerned about jobs than either Democrats or independents. They focus on repealing or reshaping the recent health care reform law. Second, for all the focus in Washington on the budget deficit, it’s not what anyone wants Congress to make its top priority, given the current economic environment.”

Republicans expect some priorities to get done, Democrats and independents pessimistic

Overall, few New Jerseyans think it “very likely” that the priority they consider “most important” will “actually get done.” Their pessimism is reflected in the fact that only 7 percent say it is “very likely” Congress will address their concerns come January while another 42 percent say it is “somewhat likely” and 48 percent say it is “not at all likely.”

Republicans however, are more optimistic, reflecting their success in the election. A majority (60 percent) says that it is very or somewhat likely that Congress will accomplish what they see as the most important task, while 39 percent of Republicans think this is not at all likely. Only 46 percent of Democrats feel at all positive, while 51 percent are negative about the prospects of action on their issue. And despite leaning Republican in their votes, independents are no more optimistic than Democrats.

On specific issues, a majority of those focused on jobs and the economy think there is some chance Congress will effectively address these issues, while about 6 in 10 focused on tax cuts and the deficit think it is not at all likely Congress will fix these issues. Those who want health care fixed are also less than optimistic: 44 percent say Congress say it is at least somewhat likely Congress will act, while 51 percent say it is not at all likely.

Republicans want representatives to stick to their beliefs; Democrats want compromise

While the majority of Garden State residents want their representatives to compromise to get laws passed, Republicans are 19 points more likely than Democrats to want their representatives to “stick to their beliefs.” Across all New Jerseyans, the desire for compromise is fairly strong, with 54 percent calling for legislators to work together, compared to 38 percent who say sticking to beliefs is more important. But this is driven by Democrats and independents, and reflected in the voting results, where 65 percent of those who voted Democrat want representatives to compromise, compared to only 44 percent of those who voted Republican.

Education appears strongly related to support for compromise. While only 48 percent of those with a high school education or less support compromise, more than 60 percent of college graduates and post-graduates call for compromise in order to get laws passed.

New Jerseyans who feel favorable to the Tea Party movement are even less likely to want compromise than other Republicans. While 50 percent of Republicans want their representatives to stick to their beliefs, 60 percent of those who support the Teas Party movement hold this view.

“The desire for compromise seems a bit one-sided from a partisan perspective,” said Redlawsk. “To some extent this reflects some of the personalities of partisans, as liberals appear more read to compromise than conservatives. But also, winners are less likely to want compromise than those who lose. Even so, for compromise to work, both sides must be willing to give, as reflected in the tax cut extension bill now working through Congress.”

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