Democrats Lack Advantage on Three Key U.S. Issue Areas

Democrats Lack Advantage on Three Key U.S. Issue Areas

by Andrew Dugan

Republicans are not gaining from Democrats' weaknesses on key issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite winning the presidency in 2012, the Democratic Party has lost its clear edge in Americans' eyes on its ability to manage the nation's economy. The 42% who believe the party would do a better job of keeping the country prosperous is down from 51% in a September 2012 poll conducted shortly after the Democratic convention. While Republicans (43%) now have a nominal edge here, this reading represents virtually no change from last year, when 42% believed the GOP would better keep the country prosperous.

Party Better Able to Maintain U.S. Prosperity, June 1980-September 2013
The percentage with no opinion or who say there would be no difference between the two parties is up to 14%, from 7% last year.

These results are from a Sept. 5-8 Gallup survey. During Barack Obama's presidency, the advantage on this question has traded hands several times between the two parties. The Democratic Party led in Obama's first year, while the Republicans did in 2010 and 2011.

Historically, two-term presidents, despite their electoral success, do not necessarily help their party achieve stronger standing on this question. Democrats generally enjoyed more support than Republicans from 2001-2009, especially in Republican President George W. Bush's second term, while Republicans were competitive on this measure through much of Democratic President Bill Clinton's prosperous time in office. Republicans held a clear advantage on this question during the 1980s, a decade that saw Republicans hold the presidency for all but one year, including the twice-elected Ronald Reagan.

Republicans Reclaim Advantage on National Security

Americans have generally seen the Republican Party as better able to protect the country from international terrorism and military threats. Last year, though, the Democratic Party tied the GOP on this measure -- a rare feat for that party -- likely because of the timing of the poll, which was conducted after the Democratic convention.

This year, 45% believe the Republican Party is better on protecting the country and 39% say the Democrats are. This poll was conducted while President Obama was trying to rally support for a military response to alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, a position that few Americans support.

Party Better Able to Protect U.S. From Terrorism, September 2002-September 2013

Democrats Barely Hold On to Edge on Most Important Problem

The Democratic Party maintains a slight edge, 39% to 34%, on the key question of which party is better able to handle what respondents say is the nation's top problem. Again, this represents a loss of support for the Democratic Party, because last year, nearly half -- 49% -- believed the Democrats were the better choice to handle the country's most important problem.

Still, the Republicans are not growing stronger while Democrats are weakening: the 34% who say Republicans are now better on this is down from 39% last year. Instead, 27% of Americans choose neither party or say there is no difference between the two parties, the highest since July 1994.

Party Better Able to Handle Nation's "Most Important Problem" -- March 1980-September 2013


Late into a year that has seen tough political battles over gun control, immigration, potential military action in Syria, and still-in-progress debates over the budget and federal debt limit, the Democratic Party is clearly showing bruises after its 2012 electoral triumph. However, the Democrats' loss is not necessarily the Republicans' gain -- the GOP is performing no better than last year with the public on these issues. Indeed, in several areas, more Americans than in recent years see neither party as the obvious choice to address the nation's problems, perhaps another example of their growing frustration with the nation's political system.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 5-8, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,510 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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

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