A new Pew poll finds that a huge majority of Republican voters want the GOP Congress to be even more confrontational towards President Obama than it has been thus far, while Democrats are much more closely split on whether Obama should be more confrontational towards Republicans:
The survey finds deep differences in how Republicans and Democrats want President Obama and GOP leaders to deal with issues. Fully 75% of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15% say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7% say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.
Fewer Democrats (49%) want Obama to challenge Republicans more often; 33% say he is handling this about right while 11% want him to go along with GOP leaders more often.
Three-fourths of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often, versus a total of 22 percent who say they have it right or want them to be more accommodating. By contrast, among Democrats, 49 percent want more confrontation from Obama versus 44 percent who say he has it right or should be more accommodating.
This is not the first poll to hint at this dynamic. A recent NBC/WSJ survey found that a plurality of Republicans think the Congressional GOP is too compromising with Obama, while a plurality of Democrats think Obama’s posture towards the GOP is just right — suggesting Republican voters are far less inclined towards seeing their leaders compromise than are Democratic voters.
Such findings raise the question: Is there something fundamental to today’s GOP that has led its voters to become increasingly hostile to the very idea of compromise, as political scientist Jonathan Bernstein has suggested? Or are these sorts of findings just a fleeting permutation amid rising partisanship on both sides?
I put the question to political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who attracted a lot of attention with a recent paper arguing that American politics is marked by “negative partisanship,” i.e., the feeling among both parties’ voters that they are increasingly distant in ideological terms from — and hence feel increasingly negative towards — the opposing party.
His answer: It’s not clear yet. Abramowitz said his own research shows an equivalence on both sides in rising “negative partisanship,” but the Pew numbers also suggest it could be getting juiced up even more on the Republican side because a Dem is in the White House. That could flip under a GOP president.
“Democrats and Republicans dislike the other party equally, but for Republicans that is reinforced by an intense dislike for Obama, a Democratic president,” Abramowitz said. “But even the percentage against compromise among Democrats is pretty high. With a Republican in the White House, you might see that number higher for Democrats.” For instance, Abramowitz noted, imagine how Democratic voters might want a Dem Congress to approach President Scott Walker, whose tenure in Wisconsin has led to years of bitter ideological struggles.
Where could Republicans be more confrontational towards Obama? Some conservatives were angry at GOP leaders for eventually funding the Department of Homeland Security instead of holding out to defund Obama’s executive actions on deportations. But GOP leaders did kill legislative immigration reform in the House, and they have denounced those executive actions as lawlessness at every opportunity. Two dozen GOP states are suing to block them. Some conservatives wanted Republicans to block Loretta Lynch, but that would have meant standing in the way of the first female African American Attorney General. Republicans agreed to a framework for Congressional oversight on any future Iran deal that could end up allowing that deal to go forward, but a tougher framework might have failed to win 67 Senate votes to get past Obama’s veto of it. A number of GOP states are still holding out hard against the Medicaid expansion.
And yet, a very large majority of Republicans wants more confrontation towards Obama. That doesn’t bode particularly well for what’s ahead. It could complicate things if the Supreme Court guts subsidies for millions, and Republican leaders decide that a contingency fix is a “must-pass” to punt political fallout until after 2016. It could make Republicans dig in even harder against Obama-negotiated Iran and global climate deals. It could complicate the push to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which Obama will demand on the grounds that failure will kill jobs and infrastructure projects around the country. It might result in pressure on GOP leaders to extract concessions — or go through the motions of trying to extract concessions, which itself can be damaging — in exchange for a debt ceiling hike.
And of course, the desire among Republican voters for more of a challenge to Obama could impact the GOP presidential primary, too, leading the GOP candidates to oppose all of those initiatives. “We’re already seeing the Republican candidates link attacks on Obama and on Hillary Clinton more and more closely,” Abramowitz says. “We’re going to see that continue.” Should be a fun year.