Taxpayers Not Tuned In to Capitol Budget Negotiations

by Lydia Saad

No political backlash evident from budget delays

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- With another budget extension expiring this week, White House and Capitol Hill negotiators are working overtime to hammer out agreements on the five remaining spending bills needed to complete the federal government's fiscal year 2000 budget. While the effort may be all-consuming for those involved with the matter in Washington, D.C., most Americans are paying scant attention to how their elected officials decide to spend their tax dollars for the coming year. Furthermore, the issue appears to be having little impact on public perceptions of the job performance of government leaders.

According to the latest Gallup Poll survey, conducted November 4-7, less than half the public, 46%, is paying close attention to the current budget news -- including only a handful (8%) who say they are following it very closely. The remaining 54% say they are paying little to no attention.

In stark contrast to 1995, when a dramatic budget standoff led to a government shutdown and subsequent drop in ratings for the Republicans in Congress, there is little evidence that the current budget dispute is creating image problems for either side today.

  • President Clinton's job approval rating has remained stable throughout this period at roughly the 60% level. Today, 58% of Americans approve of the job he is doing as president, compared to 38% who disapprove.
  • The job approval rating for the Republicans in Congress, although lower than the president's to begin with, has also not changed since the 1999 budget expired on October 1. Today 38% approve of their job performance and 53% disapprove, compared with 36% who approved in August and 37% in early October.
  • The job approval rating for the Democrats in Congress is also unchanged, at 49% today, compared to 48% in August and October.
  • Despite attacks by Clinton and the GOP members of Congress on each other's approach to education funding, protection of the Social Security trust fund and other areas traditionally important to Americans, there has been no change since early October in the perception of which side has acted more "responsibly" in the budget negotiations. President Clinton continues to have the upper hand on this measure, with 47% choosing him and just 35% choosing the Republicans in Congress.

By comparison, in the fall of 1995 Gallup recorded an unambiguous negative turn in public attitudes toward the Republican Party as a result of the budget impasse that year. With the first threats of a possible shutdown by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, public support for "the policies being proposed by the Republicans in Congress" fell from 53% to 41%. Similarly, by December 1995 (one month into the shutdown), Republicans trailed President Clinton by fourteen points -- 52% to 38% -- in terms of public preferences for who could do a better job of making the tough choices necessary to pass a budget. Earlier in the year, Republicans had led Clinton on this measure by 48% to 42%.

A Hint of Progress for the GOP
One measure on which the new Gallup survey does find public opinion shifting asks, "When it comes to dealing with the tough choices involved in deciding on the federal budget for next year, whose approach do you prefer?" Until recently, President Clinton was favored on this measure by a roughly 15-point margin. For instance, in late October, 50% of Americans said they preferred Clinton's approach to the budget process, while just 35% chose that of the Republicans. However, in the latest survey support for the Republicans grew to 41% while support for Clinton dropped to 44%.

This could be a signal that Republicans have finally made progress in transmitting their budget messages. However, without similar movement evident on other measures in the new survey, the importance of this single one-time change is not clear.

Democrats More Optimistic About Budget Details
The art of the deal in Washington this week appears to be centered on compromise, and compromises often please no one. One interesting question, therefore, is whether Republicans or Democrats nationwide are more optimistic that their own political views will be reflected in the final budget plan. Overall, just 41% of Americans say they are confident that the budget that Congress and President Clinton eventually pass will be one they, personally, approve of; 58% are not confident on this point.

However, it appears that Democrats are more hopeful than Republicans that their own side will prevail in these negotiations. A little over half of Democrats nationwide, 54%, say they are very or somewhat confident that the final budget will be one they approve of, while 45% are not too or not at all confident. By comparison, only 30% of Republicans anticipate they will approve of the budget, while 69% are not confident. Political independents also express little optimism, with just 36% saying they are confident and 62% not confident.

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older. Interviews were conducted November 4-7, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way [ROTATE: The Republicans in Congress/The Democrats in Congress] are handling their job?

  Approve Disapprove No opinion
The Republicans in Congress
1999 Nov 4-7 38% 53 9
1999 Oct 8-10 37% 55 8
1999 Aug 16-18 36% 53 11
1999 Jun 25-27 40% 53 7
The Democrats in Congress
1999 Nov 4-7 49% 42 9
1999 Oct 8-10 48% 44 8
1999 Aug 16-18 48% 41 11
1999 Jun 25-27 46% 46 8

When it comes to dealing with the tough choices involved in deciding on the federal budget for next year, whose approach do you prefer -- [ROTATE: 1) The Republicans' in Congress (or) 2) President Clinton's]?

BASED ON -- 489 -- NATIONAL ADULTS ASKED FORM A; ± 5 PCT PTS

  Republicans' President Clinton's NEITHER (vol.) BOTH (vol.) No opinion
1999 Nov 4-7 41% 44 6 * 9
1999 Oct 21-24 35% 50 5 1 9
1999 Oct 8-10 38% 55 2 1 4
1999 Sep 10-14(‡) 38% 53 4 * 5
1999 Aug 16-18(‡) 36% 53 4 1 6
1999 Jul 16-18(‡) 40% 48 5 1 6
1998 Jan 6-7(©) 39% 43 6 2 10
1997 Jul 25-27(©) 38% 49 6 2 5
1995 Dec 15-18(©) 38% 52 5 1 4
1995 Jul 7-9(©) 48% 42 3 2 5

(‡) JUL-SEP 1999 WORDING: When it comes to dealing with the tough choices involved BOTH in cutting taxes AND still maintaining needed federal programs, whose approach do you prefer...?
(©) 1995-1998 WORDING: When it comes to dealing with the tough choices involved BOTH in cutting programs to reduce the budget deficit AND still maintaining needed federal programs, whose approach do you prefer: the Republicans' in Congress or President Clinton's?

As you may know, President Clinton and the Republicans in Congress are trying to negotiate an agreement on the federal budget. Based on what you've read or heard about those negotiations -- who do you think has acted more responsibly -- [ROTATE 1-2: The Republicans in Congress or President Clinton]?

BASED ON --522-- NATIONAL ADULTS ASKED FORM B; ± 5 PCT PTS

  Republicans in Congress Clinton NEITHER (vol.) BOTH (vol.) No opinion
1999 Nov 4-7 35% 47 8 1 9
1999 Oct 21-24 37% 43 7 1 12
1999 Oct 8-10 36% 48 6 * 10
1996 Feb 23-25(o) 35% 44 13 2 6
1996 Jan 12-15(o) 38% 45 12 1 4
1996 Jan 5-7(o) 37% 38 14 3 8
1995 Dec 15-18(©) 34% 48 10 2 6

(o) 1996 WORDING: Now, thinking about the budget conflict which has been going on in Washington, who do you think has acted more responsibly in the negotiations over the budget -- President Clinton or the Republican leaders in Congress?
(©) 1995 WORDING: As you know, President Clinton and Republicans in Congress are trying to negotiate an agreement on how to balance the federal budget in seven years. Based on what you've read or heard about those negotiations -- Who do you think has acted more responsibly in the negotiations over the budget?

As you may know, the federal government's fiscal year has ended, and so far Congress has not passed the budget for the new fiscal year. How closely have you followed the news about the budget negotiations between President Clinton and Congress -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

  Oct 21-24
1999
Nov 4-7
1999
Very closely 8% 8%
Somewhat closely 33 38
Not too closely 37 38
Not at all 22 16
No opinion * *
  100% 100%

How confident are you that Congress and the president will pass a budget that you, personally, approve of -- very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident?

  Sep 23-26
1999
Oct 21-24
1999
Nov 4-7
1999
Very confident 5% 4% 4
Somewhat confident 30 42 37
Not too confident 36 39 42
Not at all confident 27 13 16
No opinion 2 2 1
  100% 100% 100%

* less than 0.5%
(vol.) volunteered response

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