PRINCETON, NJ -- A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans giving Barack Obama credit for trying to be bipartisan, but less likely to believe that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are making the same sincere efforts.
These results are based on an April 20-21 poll, conducted as Obama is concluding his first 100 days in office.
Obama has talked about bringing Democrats and Republicans together after many years of partisan acrimony in Washington. Since he was elected, he has attempted to involve Republicans in his administration, asking several to serve in his Cabinet and seeking their legislative leaders' input on some of his major legislative initiatives. But it's unclear that his efforts have eased partisan disagreement in Washington. So far, Republicans have for the most part been unified in opposition to his policies, aside perhaps from three GOP senators who voted for his economic stimulus bill.
But with only 38% of Americans saying the Republicans in Congress are making a sincere effort to work with Obama and the Democrats, compared with 66% who say Obama is trying to work with the Republicans, Americans seem more likely to fault the Republicans than the president for the lack of tangible evidence of increased bipartisanship. (At the same time, only 44% say the Democrats in Congress are making a sincere effort to work with Republicans, suggesting that while Obama gets solid credit for efforts at bipartisanship, his fellow party members in Congress do not.)
Self-identified Republicans, though, are not convinced that Obama is earnestly attempting to act in a bipartisan manner. While 89% of self-identified Democrats and 62% of independents say he is doing so, only 41% of Republicans agree.
Republicans are more likely to give the Republicans in Congress credit for trying to reach across the aisle, but it is notable that only a bare majority of 51% do. Just 39% of independents and 26% of Democrats believe congressional Republicans are acting in a bipartisan manner. A similar partisan divide is evident with respect to opinions of congressional Democrats' efforts at bipartisanship.
Last November, Gallup asked Americans essentially the same question about the likelihood that Obama, the Republicans in Congress, and the Democrats in Congress would work in a bipartisan manner. At that time, Americans were much more optimistic about all three making a sincere effort to work with the opposition than they are now, roughly three months into the Obama presidency.
In November, 80% of Americans expected Obama to make a sincere effort to work with congressional Republicans, compared to the current 66%.
There has been a similar decline in the percentage believing that the Democrats in Congress would act in a bipartisan manner, from 59% to 44%.
The greatest falloff has come in perceptions of congressional Republicans' efforts to work with the opposition. After last year's presidential election, most Americans, 62%, believed the Republicans in Congress would make a meaningful effort to work with Obama and congressional Democrats. But now, only 38% hold this view.
Status Quo for Now
Even though Americans say Obama has attempted to foster bipartisanship, they for the most part believe that not much has changed in Washington between Republicans and Democrats since Obama was elected. The poll finds 52% of Americans saying the "overall tone and level of civility" between the two parties has stayed the same. Twenty-two percent say it has improved, while 24% believe it has gotten worse.
Slim majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents agree that not much has changed in Washington in this regard. On the margins, Democrats are more likely to perceive improvement, while Republicans are more likely to believe things have deteriorated. Independents' views are closer to Republicans' than to Democrats' views.
With a solid Electoral College win and large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama does not need much Republican cooperation to pass legislation he favors. Still, he has made it a point to reach out to Republicans (even if some of his attempts, such as inviting leaders over to watch the Super Bowl, had no policy impact), though to date most of what he has accomplished policy-wise has been with little or no Republican support.
But working against those efforts is the Republicans' sincere opposition to Obama's policies on philosophical grounds, as well as the political reality that the party out of power will try to capitalize on contrasts with the in-party to aid its appeal to voters as the 2010 midterm elections approach. Also, congressional Democrats now have the opportunity to enact many of the policies they were unable to while Republicans held partisan control of Congress and while George W. Bush occupied the White House. And with the Democrats not needing much, if any, Republican support to pass their preferred legislation, it is not clear why they would want to appease Republicans.
Thus, while some leaders in Washington would view bipartisanship as a worthy goal, it's not clear that most would agree it's politically workable in the current climate, and it's certainly not an easy task.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,051 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 20-21, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.