Federal versus State: Differing views of Republican Leadership

It’s official:  The federal government has never been in worse shape.

According to a new Pew poll conducted March 13-17 and released on Monday, the federal government has reached a new low in public perception, even among Democrats. At the same time, the public gives considerably higher marks to the state governments where Republicans have consolidated their power.

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Politicians in Washington should be worried about these Pew Research Center findings:

  • “Just 28{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey.”
  • “There has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Obama took office, from 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in July 2009 to 41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} currently.”
  • “For the first time since Barack Obama became president, more Democrats say they have an unfavorable view of the federal government in Washington than a favorable view (41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favorable –  51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} unfavorable).”

This data undergirds the assumption made from other recent polling data that found very low agreement and confidence in the president and both parties: Washington is losing the battle with public opinion.

Record low ratings for the federal government might encourage Republicans since, after all, Democrats control both the White House and the Senate and therefore should be held to account for what is happening in DC, right? Well, not exactly. There is a slew of opinion data that shows Republicans in Congress are catching most of the flak for the dysfunction in Washington, while there are early signs that President Obama is just beginning to drop on key measures.

There are some troubling data for Congressional Republicans:

  1. In the February 2013 NBC-WSJ Survey, just 29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans said they agree with what Republicans in Congress were proposing to do, lower than agreement with what President Obama (45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) or Democrats in Congress (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) propose to do. Though it should be said that the president’s and Congressional Democrats’ ratings, while higher than GOP leaders, are still not especially encouraging numbers for the majority leadership in Washington.
  2. In the March Pew Poll, a majority (53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Americans said they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence that Barack Obama will “do the right thing when it comes to dealing with the budget deficit,” but just 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} said the same about Republican leaders in Congress.Among independents, 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} had at least a fair amount confidence in Obama, while 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} had little or no confidence, but that is still slightly better than the 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who had confidence in GOP leaders and 55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who did not. Further, more Democrats have confidence in their party’s leaders (86{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than Republicans do in theirs (63{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).
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  3. A Gallup poll conducted April 4-7 also found low ratings for Republican leaders in Congress on the economy. According to Gallup, 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in President Obama to recommend the right thing for the economy. Only 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say the same about Republican leaders in Congress, lower than the 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Democrat leaders in Congress and the 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Fed Chair Ben Bernanke garner.
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As bad as things seem for Congressional Republicans, there are early signs that President Obama is beginning to decline in the polls on key measures:

  1. The March Pew Poll found the president’s overall job approval slipped below 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} for the first   time since June 2012 to 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve – 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove.
  2. The most recent NBC-WSJ Poll, conducted April 4-8, found that President Obama’s personal favorability has fallen to 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Positive – 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Negative, his worst rating since the 2012 Election and a net 10 point decline from his 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Positive – 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Negative rating in January. His approval is also suffering, with more disapproving (48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than approving (47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) for the first time since June 2012.
A Different Perspective on Republican LeadershipThe March Pew poll, with its seemingly endless reams of data, also found that most of these deficits of public opinion are unique to the federal government; they report that “nearly identical percentages of Democrats (56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), Republicans (57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and independents (59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) have a favorable opinion of their state’s government. Similarly, local governments receive positive ratings from 67{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Democrats, 63{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans and 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of independents.” image 5

Pew looked at the results from the 24 states* where Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature and the 13 states** where Democrats have complete control, and found good news for Republicans:

  • “Fully 71{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who live in Republican-led states (those with a GOP governor and state legislature) have a favorable opinion of their state government. But just 30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans living in Democratic-led states view their state governments favorably.”
  • “Among Democrats living in Republican-led states, as many have a favorable (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) as unfavorable (46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) opinion of their state government.”
  • Additionally, when asked about the condition of the economy in their state Pew reports that “about a third (34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of those in states with a GOP governor describe economic conditions as excellent or good, compared with 24{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of those in states with Democratic governors. Similarly, fewer in Republican-governed states say their state is currently experiencing budget problems (66{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than those in Democratic-governed states (73{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).”
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Viewed alone, these state ratings may not seem especially positive but when compared to their Congressional counterparts and views of the federal government, Republican-led state governments are performing at a high level.

Bottom Line
Congressional Republicans have significant troubles with perceptions of their policies and actions, but:

  1. It is important to view these attitudes through the prism of the unfavorable opinion Americans have of the federal government overall especially as we see that the president is beginning to show some vulnerability, as well.
  2. This data suggests that Republican-led states have been maintaining their favorability, and the states they lead are perceived to be in slightly better shape than Democrat-led states.

*              GOP-Led States: AL, AK, AZ, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, LA, MI, MS, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI, WY
**            Dem-Led States: CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, MD, MA, MN, OR, VT, WA, WV

Public Opinion Strategies