In New Poll & Focus Groups, Voters Overwhelmingly Prefer Compromise That Gets Results Over Ideological Purity That Doesn’t
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Even while remaining polarized over the direction of the country and many key issues, voters now rate “division in the country” as the most important issue facing them personally, according to the latest Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) Battleground Poll.
According to the new poll, 32% of voters rank political polarization as one of their top two issues, seven points higher than their next most important issue. The issue of division ranked high across partisan, ideological, gender, racial and generational lines, even as voters remained polarized over some of the greatest challenges caused by the division.
The latest GU Politics Battleground Poll of 1000 registered voters was conducted by Republican pollster and former GU Politics Fellow Ed Goeas and Brian Nienaber of the Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, Daniel Gotoff, Sandra Markowitz, and McCauley Pugh of Lake Research Partners between June 5, 2021 and June 10, 2021, and has a margin of error of + 3.1%.
The poll also followed two Zoom focus groups conducted online across 14 battleground states in May. The first focus group was comprised of independent white women who voted for Biden but either voted for Trump in 2016 or whose partner voted for Trump in 2020. The second group was independent white senior voters, women and men, who voted for Trump in 2020 but felt conflicted about their vote or had previously considered voting for Biden before changing their minds.
The poll found that while voters see a modest improvement in the level of division since January, they still rate it alarmingly high and are pessimistic about the future. The poll asked voters to rate on a scale of 0-100 the level of political division in America, with 100 being the highest level. Asked their view of the level of division now, the mean response was 73, down from 76 in January. But when asked to consider where their view will be in one year, the mean response was 69, up from 65 in January.
While leaders from both parties in Washington are openly debating how much they should compromise and seek bipartisanship as opposed to standing their ground, an overwhelming majority of voters polled believe that compromise for the purpose of getting results is far more important than ideological purity. Battleground Poll results show voters prefer a politician who is willing to work together to get things done, even if it means compromising on their values sometimes (69%) over a politician who consistently fights for their values, even if this means not finding a solution very often (27%).
Focus groups, however, show the continued challenge on this point: while voters agree on the value of hypothetical compromise, it becomes much more elusive when the need to compromise is ascribed to particular beliefs. Some of the issues that focus group participants felt were worth compromising on included spending and infrastructure, while issues that voters wanted their politicians to stand up for included abortion (from a conservative voter), voter suppression (from a liberal voter), and healthcare. As one Independent white senior participant put it, “Compromise on some [issues] and stay firm on others.”
“While Congressional leaders in both parties debate bipartisanship and the importance of compromise, voters from both parties are pretty clear. They expect and demand results,” said Mo Elleithee, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. “In a contest between results and ideological purity, there is simply no contest.”
“Voters are troubled by the division in the country and given a choice, prefer a solutions oriented politician over an ideologically pure one. They expect political division to decrease over the next year,” said Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group. “Voters have not fully embraced President Biden and his agenda. They remain notably concerned about pocketbook issues and their personal financial security. Republicans who are here to help find solutions that improve the financial lives of voters will see their standing with voters rise.”
The full Republican analysis by the Tarrance Group can be found here.
“The country agrees politicians should compromise to find solutions and get things done on a wide range of issues and challenges, where the voters themselves register strong support for action, across partisan lines,” said Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. “Given that ‘division in the country’ is the top concern among voters overall, it is an issue on which Republicans will eventually need to improve if they want to win over voters. This can only be achieved if they come to the table in good faith on issues which already win widespread bi-partisan support from voters. The electoral incentive is there. It is now up to leaders in Washington to deliver on their promise of achieving results for the American people.”
The full Democratic analysis by Lake Research Partners can be found here.
Other key findings in the poll include:
State of the nation and political job approvals:
- On average, voters feel better about the direction of the country than in the last Battleground Poll, though they remain pessimistic overall. More than half (56%) of Americans think the country is on the wrong track today compared to 72% who said the same in August. Despite the significant shift in public attitude, polarization remains high. 73% of Democrats think the country is headed in the right direction compared to nine-in-ten Republicans (90%) who say it is going in the wrong direction.
- President Biden enjoys a majority job approval rating (53%), including almost universal approval among Democrats (96%). 90% of Republicans disapprove of his job performance.
- The Democrats in Congress have an overall job approval rating of 45% approve and 52% disapprove, but 85% of Democrats approve. The Republicans in Congress have an overall job approval rating of 29% approve and 66% disapprove though a majority (55%) of Republicans approve.
- Republicans have the advantage on taxes (+6%), jobs (+3%), and economic recovery (+4%). Democrats have the advantage on dealing with health care (+11%), race relations (+23%), COVID-19 (+18%), education (+10%), and bringing the country together (+13).
Other Key Issues
- The number two issue overall is “government spending” with 25% of voters naming it their first or second biggest concern, though concern for this issue is driven mainly by Republicans (44% of Republicans name it as first or second top concern versus just 8% of Democrats who do the same).
- The number three issue overall is “voting rights” which can be attributed to the concern of Democrats (35% of Democrats name it as first or second concern versus just 13% of Republicans who do the same).
- A majority of voters (50%) select the option that the expanded unemployment assistance provides an incentive for workers to remain unemployed.
- Two-in-five voters (40%) report an economic setback due to the COVID-19 crisis although concern over COVID-19 has decreased to just 12% (6% most important, 6% next most important) for those who ranked it as their top issue, showing the country continues to come out of the pandemic. On the issue of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, President Biden (24%) has a slightly higher excellent score than former President Trump (18%). Narrow majorities of voters give narrowly positive ratings to Joe Biden and their local leaders on their handling of the pandemic, while they are evenly split on their state’s Governor’s handling of COVID, and clearly negative in their reviews of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
Where people get their information mirrors the polarization:
Not surprisingly, the poll shows a strong correlation between where people get information and how they view key issues and figures. For example:
- Black Lives Matter’s favorable/unfavorable rating among daily Fox News viewers is 17/78. Among non-Fox viewers, it’s 59/35
- Among daily Fox viewers, QAnon has 27% unfavorable rating with 44% having never heard of it. Among non-Fox viewers, it has 57% unfavorable with only 30 having never heard of it
- Dr. Anthony Fauci has a favorable/unfavorable rating among daily Fox viewers of 20/69. Among non-Fox viewers, it’s 64-27
- 56% of daily Fox viewers cite cancel culture as an extremely or very important problem, compared to only 32% of non viewers
- One notable exception: Majorities of both daily Fox viewers (56%) and non viewers (69%) say refusing to accept election results is an extremely or very important problem.
To learn more about the poll, see the questionnaire, charts, tables, and analysis visit: https://politics.georgetown.edu/battleground-poll/
Academics, researchers, and journalists can also access the full dataset to assist in their own research and analyses. [Note: Any use of this data and material must credit the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll.]
ABOUT THE GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE BATTLEGROUND POLL:
The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll is a national bipartisan survey measuring political opinion and civility among registered voters in the United States. Produced by Republican strategist Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic strategist Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, this polling series offers unique polling analysis and insights from two top pollsters from different sides of the aisle.
Initiated in June 1991, and housed at GU Politics since April 2019, the Battleground Polls have gained widespread media recognition as reliable bellwethers of national opinion and voters’ intentions. The Battleground data projected the outcome of the 1992, 1996, and 2004 presidential race more precisely than any other similar effort in the country, including those of the major TV networks and national newspapers. In addition, Battleground Polls have consistently been major predictors of what is going to happen in approaching Congressional elections
ABOUT THE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE:
The Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) connects and empowers students and the broader community to improve and reimagine politics and public service and reaffirm its promise. Founded as part of the McCourt School of Public Policy in the fall of 2015, GU Politics programming is open to the entire Georgetown community.
ABOUT THE MCCOURT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY:
The Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy is a top-ranked public policy school located in Washington, D.C., the heart of the policy world. The McCourt School’s mission is to teach our students to design, analyze, and implement smart policies and put them into practice in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, in the U.S. and around the world.