Obama Gets Mixed Reviews for Bipartisanship on Tax Deal

by Lydia Saad

Majority is less optimistic about leaders' ability to solve nation's problems

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are very much divided over whether President Obama compromised too much, not enough, or the right amount with Republican leaders on their recent tax agreement. The largest segment of Americans, 38%, believe he struck the right balance, while, by 26% to 21%, slightly more say he did not compromise enough than say he compromised too much. Another 15% are unsure.

Perceptions of How Much President Obama Compromised on Tax Agreement, Among National Adults and by Party ID, December 2010

These findings are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Dec. 10-12.

Some of the strongest congressional opposition to the tax deal has come from the Democratic caucus, stirring media speculation about whether Obama could face a challenge from the left in 2012. About a third of rank-and-file Democrats believe Obama compromised too much, but the majority (55%) say he either did not compromise enough or was about right.

Along the same lines, most Democrats (78%) say either that their respect for Obama has grown as a result of his work on the tax agreement or that their opinion of him has not changed. Fewer than one in five -- 17% -- say they respect him less.

The views of Democrats on this issue mirror those of the American public.

Reaction to President Obama Over Tax Agreement, Among National Adults and by Party ID, December 2010

Handling of Tax Deal Compounds Americans' Pessimism

The poll was conducted amid heated political debate in Washington over the merits of the compromise, and prior to any votes being cast. The rancorous tone from Congress during this period may not have sat well with Americans, and this is possibly seen in the sharp drop in Congress' approval rating in December to a record-low 13%. Obama's approval rating is largely unchanged.

More specifically, 51% of Americans say the way the president and both parties in Congress have handled the tax matter makes them less optimistic about the government's ability to solve the nation's biggest problems, far outweighing the 20% who are more optimistic.

Effect of Tax Agreement on Outlook for Government's Ability to Solve Problems, Among National Adults and by Party ID, December 2010

Republicans are a bit less pessimistic in their interpretation of the tax negotiations than independents and Democrats. This may reflect the fact that, by 57% to 48%, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to support congressional passage of the plan, and may therefore be more tolerant of the process that produced it.

More generally, 49% of Americans think Congress should pass the compromise plan, 32% think Congress should not pass it, and 18% are unsure.

Bottom Line

Americans have told Gallup they value compromise over principled conflict. Now that President Obama and Republican leaders have, indeed, compromised over the extension of the Bush tax cuts, Americans seem to be saying "the compromise is fine, but next time, do it more gracefully."

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 10-12, 2010, with a random sample of 1,019 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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