Very Conservative Americans: Leaders Should Stick to Beliefs

by Frank Newport

Other groups of Americans tilt more toward compromise

PRINCETON, NJ -- A majority of very conservative Americans believe political leaders in Washington should stick to their beliefs even if little is accomplished, while all other groups, particularly moderates and liberals, are more amenable to compromise for the sake of getting things done.

More Important for Political Leaders to Stick to Beliefs or Compromise? By Ideology

These data are from an aggregate of 2,039 interviews with national adults from two recent Gallup surveys -- the first conducted Nov. 4-7, 2010, and the second, Jan. 7-10, 2011. Response patterns to this question were similar in both surveys.

Americans who describe themselves as "very conservative" -- 11% of national adults -- are most different from others in their responses to the compromise versus stick-to-beliefs question. These Americans are significantly more likely than any other group to place more importance on leaders' sticking to their beliefs -- a "4" or "5" on the 5-point scale.

Americans who classify themselves as conservative but not "very" conservative, however, are about evenly divided in terms of sticking to principles (35%) versus compromising (36%). Majorities of moderates and liberals rate themselves "1" or "2" on the scale, indicating greater support for compromise among political leaders.

The differences among partisan/ideological groups reflect similar patterns. Conservative Republicans are the most likely to say leaders should stick to their principles. Democrats in all ideological groups are more likely than conservative Republicans to lean toward the "more important to compromise" position. Liberal and moderate Democrats are the least likely to favor a "stick to principles" position, while liberal Democrats are slightly more likely to choose a mid-range position on the issue than are other Democrats.

More Important for Political Leaders to Stick to Beliefs or Compromise? By Party ID and Ideology

Gallup analyzed the basic relationship between party identification and responses to this question using the Nov. 4-7, 2010, data, and found Republicans more in favor of leaders sticking to their beliefs and Democrats more supportive of compromise.


Shortly after taking over control of Congress last week, Republican leaders introduced a bill to repeal the entire healthcare reform act that President Obama signed into law last March. This repeal bill is viewed as having virtually no chance of passage by the Democratically controlled Senate or of overriding a presidential veto, making it a symbolic gesture seemingly aimed at a desire to showcase beliefs rather than a serious effort to pass legislation. These actions may find favor among very conservative Americans and among conservative Republicans, groups that disproportionately tend to believe that sticking to principles should trump a desire to reach compromise.

Conservatives' relatively higher level of support for the idea that political leaders should stick to their beliefs regardless of what gets done may reflect a reaction to Democratic control of Congress, the Senate, and the White House in 2009-2010. At the same time, President Obama was able to work with Republican Senate leaders to pass compromise bills on taxes and gays in the military in the waning days of the last Congress, and to achieve Senate ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Whether these bipartisan successes will affect how Congress acts from this point forward remains to be seen.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-7, 2010 and Jan. 4-7, 2011, with a random sample of 2,039 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 ±3 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 200 cell phone-only respondents and 800 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 2010 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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