Democrats, Republicans Differ in Views of Compromise in D.C.

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Democrats more likely to favor compromise; Republicans, holding firm to beliefs

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans think it is generally more important for political leaders to compromise to get things done (47%) rather than sticking to their beliefs (27%), but Republicans and Democrats hold differing views on the matter. Republicans tilt more toward saying leaders should stick to their beliefs (41% to 32%), while Democrats more widely endorse compromise (by 59% to 18%).

More Important for Political Leaders to Stick to Beliefs or Compromise? 1-5 Scale, November 2010

These results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Nov. 4-7, after the midterm elections. The elections resulted in divided control of Congress, with Republicans set to become the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats holding on to a Senate majority.

Because this was the first time Gallup has asked the question about compromise versus holding firm in one's beliefs, it is not clear whether the partisan differences in the poll are typical or whether they reflect Republicans' and Democrats' responses to the current political situation. Republicans were able to make big electoral gains in the midterm elections largely by opposing President Obama's agenda of the last two years. On the other hand, the president will now need to work with Republicans in order to get things done after having the luxury of Democratic control of both houses of Congress during his first two years in office.

Americans are significantly more likely to think Obama will make a sincere effort to work with Republicans in Congress (64%) than they are to believe Republicans will make an effort to work with the president and the Democrats in Congress (43%). The difference could stem from Americans' tendency to rate the president more positively than Congress.

Americans are significantly more skeptical about the major political players' willingness to compromise than they were in November 2008, just after Obama's election. However, they are somewhat more positive than they were in September 2009, eight months into the Obama presidency, when Congress was intensely debating the president's healthcare reform efforts.

November 2008-November 2010 Trend: Americans' Views of Political Leaders' Willingness to Work With Other Side to Find Solutions Acceptable to Both Parties

In order for compromise to occur, both sides will need to make an effort. An analysis of Americans' responses to the two compromise questions finds 25% believing that both President Obama and the Republicans in Congress will make a sincere effort to compromise with each other. Sixteen percent do not think either side will make an effort, while the remainder are more likely to think the president will make an effort while the Republicans will not.

Americans' Views of Political Leaders' Willingness to Work With Other Side to Find Solutions Acceptable to Both Parties, November 2010

If the two parties are unable or unwilling to compromise, Americans may prefer that the Republicans, rather than President Obama, prevail. When asked whom they want to have more influence over the direction the nation takes in the next year, 49% say the Republicans in Congress and 41% say President Obama.

These views are nearly identical to what Gallup measured in early 1995, the last time Republicans won a congressional majority while a Democratic president was in office. At that time, 49% wanted the Republicans in Congress to have more influence and 40% wanted President Bill Clinton to be more influential.

In contrast, in 2006, after Democrats won back their congressional majorities while President George W. Bush was in office, 61% said they wanted the Democrats in Congress to have more influence, compared with 31% who favored Bush.


With the 2010 midterm elections now complete, the outcome of the 2012 elections for president and Congress may hinge largely on the ability of Congress and the president to work together to solve the nation's problems over the next two years.

The data suggest a possible dilemma for Republicans in Congress in this regard. Americans overall favor political leaders who seek compromise over sticking to their core beliefs, although to the extent Republicans in Congress take that approach, they may be straying from the views of their party's core supporters. Indeed, many of the newly elected GOP members won the party's nomination by promising to hold to core beliefs of limited government.

President Obama may be in a slightly more comfortable position to compromise, given that his core Democratic supporters -- as well as Americans overall -- seem to favor that approach. Compromising on his part may also make Obama seem responsive to the will of the people as expressed in the 2010 midterms. However, he too has a delicate balance, as compromising too much could alienate his core supporters and open up the possibility of his being challenged by a liberal Democrat for the party's 2012 presidential nomination; and not compromising enough could leave him vulnerable to being blamed for not making progress on the problems facing the country.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-7, 2010, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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