The Washington Post

Republican debate, the public opinion angle

The feisty Republican debate Wednesday night allowed the candidates to lay out their visions on a variety of hot-button issues. Here’s a roundup of public opinion on some of last night’s topics.

Jobs –There was little disagreement on the leading issue of the day – unleash the private sector through tax cuts and watch jobs and the economy grow. A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday finds wide majorities of the public agreeing that tax cuts – both personal and business – would help at least a little. Republicans feel more strongly than others on this.

Health care – Mitt Romney took his lumps from the field of candidates on his reform measures – specifically the individual mandate – when governor of Massachusetts. Opinions of health-care reform have long been divided, with slightly more viewing it unfavorably than favorably in Kaiser’s Health Tracking surveys. But Republicans view it unfavorably by more than 2 to 1. That’s quite different from the opinions of Massachusetts voters; 68 percent said they supported the Massachusetts Universal Health Insurance Law enacted by Romney in a 2010 Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll. However, two-thirds of all Americans want Congress to repeal the individual mandate in a March Kaiser poll, while other elements of the heath-care law remain popular.

Global warming – Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that the “science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we’re going to put America’s economics in jeopardy.” Perry’s notion of disagreement is reflected in a 2009 Post-ABC poll in which 62 percent thought there was a lot of disagreement among scientists, including 79 percent of Republicans. In a March Gallup poll, a bare majority of the public said the earth’s warming is due to human activities but more than four in 10 said it is due to natural causes. Republicans by almost 2 to 1 side with natural causes for climate change.

Social Security – The infamous third rail of politics – touch it and you die – didn’t dissuade Perry from calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” Romney took a pragmatic approach, indicating that the GOP nominee must be committed to saving it rather than abolishing it. The public judges the program as the most important of a variety of large federal programs tested in a Post-Kaiser Harvard poll from October 2010. Over three-quarters called it “very important,” with nearly seven in 10 Republicans saying the same.

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Peyton M. Craighill is polling manager for the Washington Post. Peyton reports and conducts national and regional news polls for the Washington Post, with a focus on politics, elections and other social and economic issues.


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