Republican attacks on President Barack Obama’s policies are resonating with voters, even as many Americans give a thumbs-down to the party and some of its specific ideas, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.
Three weeks before the midterm elections, Republicans maintain a position of strength due to the commitment of their supporters and the likelihood they will vote.
The general Republican message of less spending, lower taxes and repeal of the health-care overhaul is connecting. Pluralities of those polled support overturning the health-care measure -- Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment -- and back the “Pledge to America” that offers a road map for how Republicans would govern if they win congressional majorities.
Still, the poll suggests voters aren’t embracing Republicans as much as they are rejecting Democrats.
Poll participant Carol Wortham, 62, a retired state and federal government worker in Bayou Vista, Texas, who considers herself an independent voter, said she plans to support Republicans this year, though she isn’t excited to do so.
“They are the lesser of two evils,” she said.
The poll finds Republicans in an anomalous position -- poised to make political gains while the party and its policies are unpopular. That stands in contrast to midterm elections in 1994 and 2006, when the insurgent party gained congressional control after polls showed voter attitudes tilting toward them.
In the Bloomberg Poll, nearly half of likely voters -- 49 percent -- said they had an unfavorable view of the Republicans. Democrats have a narrow advantage on favorability, 47 percent to 45 percent.
In October 1994, the month before Republicans won enough seats to gain control of both the U.S. House and Senate, their party had a 7 percentage point advantage in positive ratings among registered voters, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. In October 2006, before Democrats retook control of both chambers, a NBC/Journal poll showed their party with a sizable popularity advantage over Republicans.
“People are insecure,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey on Oct. 7-10. “Their own money is tight and the current administration has not convinced them the nation will not go broke from big spending programs. That insecurity does not translate into trust for Republicans, however.”
Obama, 49, inherited an economy in crisis. Joblessness, which reached a 26-year high of 10.1 percent in October 2009, stood at 9.6 percent nationwide last month. Gross domestic product, which recorded a 5.0 percent annual growth rate in last year’s final quarter, slowed to 1.7 percent during 2010’s second quarter. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is up more than 44 percent since Obama took office in January 2009, though it’s risen only 4.5 percent this year.
Much of Obama’s focus in his first year was on passing the health-care overhaul that aims to insure tens of millions of Americans, cut costs and bar insurers from rejecting customers with pre-existing medical conditions. In the new Bloomberg poll, the measure’s repeal is favored by 47 percent of likely voters, while 42 percent say it should be left alone.
Still, the poll found strong backing for most of the law’s provisions. Three-quarters favor its ban on insurance companies denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions; 67 percent support allowing children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ policies. Also, 73 percent want to keep the addition of more prescription-drug benefits for those on Medicare.
Among eight of the law’s provisions on which the poll sought opinions, repeal was backed by a majority of likely voters for just two: requiring everyone to have health insurance and taxing companies that offer especially generous coverage.
Democrats have generally shied away from campaigning on the bill because of its overall unpopularity.
The Republican “Pledge to America” is viewed as a good idea by 48 percent of likely voters, compared with 39 percent who term it a bad idea. Also, more than half agreed with a statement that the federal budget deficit is “dangerously out of control and threatens our economic future.”
The Republican pledge is short on specific proposals. Keeping the promise to cut an estimated $100 billion from the federal budget next year, though, implicitly would slash spending for education, cancer research and aid to local police and firefighters, among other items.
Most likely voters are opposed or lukewarm to sacrifices often mentioned in debates on reducing the deficit.
At least half said that among 12 ideas that are commonly broached, a third should be taken off the table. These include raising the age of eligibility for Medicare, privatizing Social Security and reducing federal funding for disease research.
Nearly half of likely voters say the idea of cutting federal spending on roads, bridges and public transportation shouldn’t be considered, and there’s a comparable level of opposition to raising the age for Social Security benefits.
On whether to renew tax-rate reductions enacted under President George W. Bush that are to expire at year’s end -- an issue that is dividing the parties -- likely voters are closer to Obama’s position.
A plurality of them -- 43 percent -- support his goal of continuing the lower rates for individual income up to $200,000 and up to $250,000 for couples filing jointly, which accounts for about 97 percent of taxpayers, according to Internal Revenue Service data. Support for the Republican push to extend the cuts for all tax brackets was at 34 percent, while 20 percent backed letting all the reductions expire to help cut the deficit.
The Republican advantage as the Nov. 2 election approaches is assisted by the party’s support from independent voters, a critical bloc that can make or break a candidate. The poll shows independents favoring Republican congressional candidates over Democrats, 35 percent to 29 percent.
The most motivated voters -- those who say they will definitely vote and are extremely interested in the election -- lean Republican over Democrat, 51 percent to 37 percent. Also, 55 percent of Republicans say the election is “exceptionally important,” compared with 35 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents.
“A smaller election favors Republicans,” Selzer said. “Democrats have moved into overdrive -- maybe too late -- to boost turnout, which will work to their advantage.”
The Bloomberg Poll included interviews with 721 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Neither party cracks the 50 percent mark on the generic trial heat for Congress. Respondents were offered a choice of Republicans, Democrats or an “other” category. Democrats received support from 42 percent, while Republicans claimed 40 percent. The remaining 18 percent picked “other” or weren’t sure.
For a House majority, Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats; to win the Senate, they need a net gain of 10.
At least half of likely voters surveyed predicted that should Republicans win control of Congress, improvements would result for the economy, banks, small businesses, large corporations and the wealthy. By 46 percent to 40 percent, the likely voters think a Republican Congress would be better instead of worse for the middle class.
Forty-one percent said they would personally benefit from a Republican takeover, while 29 percent say they would be harmed and 27 percent say there would be no change for them, with little variation by age or gender.
Almost two-thirds of likely voters say they believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.
Poll participant Nancy Watkins, 57, who considers herself an independent voter and lives in Eagle Point, Oregon, said she would like to see Republicans win congressional majorities to help “balance things out” between the legislative and executive branches of government.
“They’re trying to say no on spending more money,” said Watkins, an area manager for a refuse company. “We are going to go bankrupt if we continue down the road of borrowing money.”
Watkins said she thinks another advantage to Republicans taking control would be the removal of Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.
“We have to get rid of Pelosi,” she said. “I hate that lady.”
More than half of likely voters -- 52 percent -- have an unfavorable view of the California Democrat, while a third have a positive view of her. House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican in line to become speaker if his party wins the chamber, remains unknown to many likely voters, with 39 percent saying they aren’t sure of their opinion of him. Among those with a view, 29 percent said they had a favorable opinion of him, while 32 percent viewed him negatively.
Missy Coombs, 52, a self-employed furniture refinisher who considers herself an independent voter, said she dislikes much of what she sees in American politics, including what she considers unrealistic expectations for economic recovery.
“I think that we need to be a little more patient,” said Coombs, who lives in Holladay, Utah. “I think people are knee- jerking a little too much. To expect instant results is crazy.”
--Editors: Don Frederick, Bob Drummond.
To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Washington at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at [email protected]
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