Independents on the Issues in 2014: What’s up now?

A post earlier this week showed Independents are very supportive of Congressional Republican candidates and have made major gains since the government shutdown in October 2013.

A review of the key issues facing voters in 2014 suggests Republicans can maintain that momentum through the November mid-term elections. While Independents do favor increasing the minimum wage, they consistently oppose Obamacare, and support the GOP’s broader economic argument against Obama and Democrats.

Here are four key take away points from the March data:

1)      While question wording can contribute to shifts in the top line result, partisan attitudes about the new health care law are firmly locked-in.

A question posed by ABC-Post poll reads, “Overall, do you support or oppose the federal law making changes to the health care system?”

table 1

The Post reports opinion is trending more favorable over the past few months going from 40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Favor/57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Oppose in November 2013 to 49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Favor/48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Oppose in March 2014.

But, according to Washington Post’s The Fix, “Democratic support has surged to a record-tying 76 percent…the highest level since March 2010, immediately after the law was passed.”

The improvement for the ACA is not an increase in support among Independents, but because the Democrat base is “going home.” Improvement in the ACA’s rating among Democrats does not change the problems the President’s party has with Independents.

Meanwhile, in the NBC-WSJ polling, there has been no significant movement in opinion about the health care law since late 2013. The NBC-WSJ question, tracked since 2009, is slightly different and includes a read response for “no opinion.” The question reads, “From what you have heard about Barack Obama’s health care plan that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2010, do you think his plan is a good idea or a bad idea? If you do not have an opinion either way, please just say so.”

table 2

The question in the newest NPR survey conducted by Resurgent Republic and Democracy Corps does not include a read “no opinion” option but, when viewed by partisanship the results track closer to the NBC-WSJ data and shows that among likely voters Independents are even more opposed to the law.

The NPR question reads, “Do you support or oppose the health care reform law that passed in 2010, also known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare?”

table 3

2)      Compared to a measure of the role of government, the structure of opinion on the new health care law among Independents shows that the law has gone too far.

Partisan views on Obamacare almost exactly match the partisan divide on NBC-WSJ’s role of government question which asks “Which of the following comes closer to your point of view about the role of government – government should do more to solve problems and meet the needs of people or government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.”

table 4

The data suggests that partisan attitudes are as starkly different on the new healthcare law as they are on the overall role of government.

But, while 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independents believe the government should be doing more in general, when it comes to the health care law specifically, across these polls Independents are steadfast in their opposition – 54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose the law in the ABC-Post question, 54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say the law is a bad idea in the NBC-WSJ question and 59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose among likely voters in the NPR question.

In the March NPR survey, 78{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independent likely voters who oppose the law say it is because the law goes too far in changing health insurance while just 9{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say their opposition is because the law doesn’t go far enough.

3)      Recent polling by CNBC suggests that Independents have very different views of the role for government on increasing the minimum wage than they do on the health care law.

In March 2014, a CNBC survey asked voters about an increase of the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.

The question read, “As you may know, the minimum wage is currently seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose raising the hourly minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents?”

table 5

The data suggests that while still polarizing, the minimum wage is a much stronger issue for Democrats with 71{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independent support. In contrast to their views on the new health care law, support for a $10.10 minimum wage is significantly higher than the 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who see an expanded role for government in general.

Last Wednesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) strongly rebuffed efforts by Republican Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to reach a compromise that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour. Reid’s cynical stance suggests the Democratic focus on raising the minimum wage is more about politics than actually on raising the minimum wage.

4)      When put into a larger context, more Independent likely voters agree with a Republican message on economic policy than with a Democrat message.

The NPR survey asked likely voters which of the following messages came closer to their own opinion. The Republican message was written by Resurgent Republic and the Democrat message was written by Democracy Corps.

table 6Considering the strong support for increasing the minimum wage measured in other polling, the overall split of 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP/35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Dem among Independents on this broader economic positioning is a very good sign for Republicans. Even more encouraging, 42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Independents say they “strongly” agree with the Republican message compared to 27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who strongly agree with the Democrat message.

What that means is, at least in this NPR survey, Independents’ agreement with broad Republican economic policies is roughly equivalent to their opposition to Obamacare.

table 7

Bottom Line

Democrats might see pivoting from Obamacare to economic issues like the minimum wage as a path to win back Independents in the 2014 election. At this point the data suggests they will have little luck as long as they have to carry the weight of six years of Obama’s policies.


Public Opinion Strategies