Partisan Bases Are Not Always Where Their Elected Leaders Want Them To Be

Two policy questions roiling Washington show that partisan bases are not always as united as their elected party leaders in D.C. would like them to be.

Crosstabs from two questions on the latest NBC/WSJ survey underscore that.  In both cases, Republicans and Democrats do not agree with each other, but neither base is as strongly opposed to the policy as one might expect.

The first example is the Keystone XL pipeline.  Given the choice between favor, oppose, or don’t know, fully 41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor it, only 20{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose it, and 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say they do not have an opinion on Keystone.  (At the end of the question, a third option, “or do you not know enough about this topic to have an opinion” was read to respondents.)

Republicans are solidly backing Keystone by a 70{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-5{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} margin, with 25{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} uncertain.  Independents are two-to-one in favor (38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-18{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).  Democrats, on the other oppose it, but not by a lot – 21{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor/35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose/43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} don’t know.

In other words, President Obama has issued a veto threat about something just 35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of his partisan base opposes.  This is one of the issues Democrats lashed themselves to the mast as their electoral ship went down in 2014?  An issue barely one in three of their own voters is against?  Well, do not hold your breath waiting for the media to draw a straight line between the gobs of campaign spending done by environmental groups and the unified opposition among nearly all Democrat elected officials in DC.

On the flip side are Republican attitudes toward the diplomatic recognition of Cuba.  While party leadership is not as unified against this as Democrats are against Keystone, the loudest voices on the GOP side have been anti-recognition of Cuba.

Overall, 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve and 30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove of diplomatic recognition of Cuba.  (Offering a third option:  “or do you not know enough about this topic to have an opinion” was not part of this question.)

Like Republicans on Keystone, Democrats are united for diplomatic recognition of Cuba, as 77{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve and 17{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove.  Like Keystone, Independents back Cuba recognition by two-to-one (61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).  Conversely, Republicans are pretty evenly divided on Cuba – 41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve and 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove.

 Cuba Table

So, while some elected officials are prepared to fight to the death against two key policies, their partisan bases are not strongly in their corner.

The data in this blog post is from NBC/Wall Street Journal poll done January 14-17, 2015 by Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Republican pollster Bill McInturff. This analysis is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of NBC, The Wall Street Journal, or Hart Research Associates.


Public Opinion Strategies