PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans come down strongly in opposition to South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst during President Obama's address to Congress on healthcare last Wednesday, though majorities on both sides of the issue do not seem passionate in their views. Sixty-eight percent of Americans interviewed in the Sept. 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll say they oppose what Wilson did, while 21% say they support it.
Those who favor and those opposing Wilson's actions were asked if they were thrilled or outraged, respectively. Majorities on each side of the issue would not use these two words to describe their emotions, leaving 6% of Americans thrilled by the incident and 23% outraged.
"The data show that Americans' reactions to the Wilson incident are somewhat muted, with little more than half saying they have followed the news about the actions closely -- well below the average for stories Gallup has tracked over the decades."
President Obama has said he accepted the official apology Wilson issued on Wednesday night after the incident, although Democratic leaders want the House to pass an official reprimand this week if Wilson does not apologize to Congress directly. Wilson said over the weekend that he would not apologize again.
Americans were asked in the context of the survey how closely they had followed this news story.
A little more than half say they have followed it somewhat or very closely, leaving the rest who have not been following the news -- including a quarter who say they haven't followed it at all. This puts the Wilson incident somewhat below the 60% "closely followed" average for news stories about which Gallup has asked the same question over the last several decades.
There is very little difference by party in attention paid to the incident, with slightly more than half of Republicans, independents, and Democrats saying they are following it very or somewhat closely.
Majorities of all groups oppose Wilson's actions regardless of how closely they are following the news about those actions, with a higher "don't know" percentage among those who haven't followed the news.
There are, as might be expected, significant differences in responses to the incident per se across party lines, although not as much as perhaps could have been expected, given that Wilson is a Republican and Obama a Democrat.
A majority of Republicans (52%) are opposed to what Wilson did, although most of these say they are not outraged -- just opposed. On the other hand, 9% of Republicans say they are thrilled by what Wilson did, with another 30% saying they support it but are not thrilled.
Forty-one percent of Democrats are outraged by Wilson's actions, but a slightly larger group of 45% of Democrats say they oppose his actions but are not outraged. Very few Democrats support what Wilson did.
Americans by more than a 3-to-1 margin oppose rather than favor Rep. Wilson's shouting "You lie!" during President Obama's healthcare speech last week. The fact that most Democrats oppose Wilson's actions is not surprising. The majority opposition among Republicans is perhaps a little more unexpected, particularly given the vocal support that conservative talk-show hosts have given to Wilson, and given reports that contributions to Wilson's re-election campaign have soared as a result of what he did. Republicans may be taking their cues on the incident from Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who have generally criticized Wilson's actions.
At the same time, the data show that Americans' reactions to the Wilson incident are somewhat muted, with little more than half saying they have followed the news about the actions closely -- well below the average for stories Gallup has tracked over the decades. Additionally, the fact that a majority of both those who favor and those who oppose Wilson's actions opted not to say they were "thrilled" or "outraged," respectively, provides additional evidence that the emotional impact of those actions is perhaps less than some of the news coverage might lead one to expect.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,030 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 11-13, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the 501 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 529 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline 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.