Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631
Timothy Pierce: [email protected], 202-994-5647
WASHINGTON (Jan. 15, 2019)—Differences in Democratic and Republican voter priorities suggest Congress will continue to be fractured. A new edition of the George Washington University Politics Poll found contrasting top priorities for each party and deep partisan division on the importance of many issues, highlighting the difficulty of reopening the government if action depends on a bipartisan immigration compromise. The poll also provided a first look at the field of 2020 Democratic presidential prospects.
Given a laundry list of policy issues, poll respondents were asked whether each was a top priority for the new Congress, a low priority, not important, or something that shouldn’t be done at all. Among all voters, health care was a clear primary issue: 71 percent thought reducing health care costs should be a top priority and 63 percent said shoring up Medicare should be a top issue too. Two-thirds (67 percent) said making Social Security financially sound should be a top issue, and about the same amount (65 percent) prioritized strengthening the economy generally.
However, that consensus masked some deep partisan divides. Immigration, at the center of the government shutdown debate, is the most important issue for the new Congress in the minds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents: 80 percent said it should be the top priority, which made it the highest priority for Republicans polled. Those Republicans also were very concerned about the situation at the border. The poll asked people how concerned they were that the group of Central American migrants at the U.S. border seeking asylum might get into the country. Among Republicans, 60 percent were very concerned and another 21 percent were somewhat concerned. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Republicans strongly favored deploying U.S. troops to the southern border to deal with this group of migrants.
“Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided not only on the caravan but on nearly every issue related to immigration that we asked about in this poll,” Kimberly Gross, an associate professor of media and public affairs at GW, said. “For example, majorities of Republicans supported temporarily banning Muslims from other countries, separating undocumented parents from their children at border crossings in order to discourage others from coming and making it harder to immigrate to the U.S. legally. Only about one-in-10 Democrats supports any of these things. And although this poll did not ask about a border wall, Democrats and Republicans differ on that too. Given these divisions, it is hard to see a path to reopening the government that depends on party leaders finding a compromise on immigration but doesn’t alienate some of their supporters.”
- View the poll toplines for more data on how the public prioritizes changing gun laws, reigning in special interest groups, dealing with climate change and other hot-button issues.
- View a graphic illustrating “top priority” issues by party.
Partisan Split on House Subpoenas
The new GW poll also examined the ability of the new Democratic-held Congress to subpoena the Trump administration. Asked whether it would be appropriate for the Trump administration to ignore subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives, 60 percent of all registered voters polled thought it would be inappropriate. However when looking at the party affiliation of those polled, a divide emerged. Among Republicans, 40 percent said it would be appropriate for the White House to brush off Congress’ requests, with an additional 24 percent undecided on the matter. In contrast, 82 percent of Democratic voters think it would be inappropriate.
This finding mirrors the vast difference between parties in prioritizing an investigation into President Trump. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of Democrats said it should be a priority for the new Congress, while only 6 percent of Republicans agreed.
Economic Outlook Shifts
Voters seemed to take a pessimistic turn on the economy. The amount of voters saying the economy is getting worse rose from 19 percent in the October edition of the GW Poll to 27 percent in the new December edition. A third (33 percent) said the economy is getting better and another third (33) said it was about the same. Both of those figures were down from the October edition of the poll (39 and 37, respectively).
Democratic 2020 Field Takes Shape
The new edition of the GW Politics Poll, conducted in mid-December 2018, also found the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race seems wide open. Former Vice President Joe Biden is an early frontrunner, but many prospective candidates have smaller name recognition, potentially giving them room to alter opinion.
Mr. Biden was the only potential Democratic presidential candidate viewed favorably by more than half of those polled (51 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable). Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders split voters: 48 percent viewed him favorably, 46 percent were unfavorable. Fewer voters viewed Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren favorably (38 percent) than unfavorably (45 percent).
Most potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates had relatively evenly split, but low rates of people rating them favorably and unfavorably because many do not know them, including Kamala Harris (31 percent favorable/33 percent unfavorable), Kirsten Gillibrand (27/29), Cory Booker (33/35), Amy Klobuchar (21/18), Julian Castro (20/23) and Beto O’Rourke (33/31).
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg faces a challenge, with 42 percent viewing him unfavorably, and just 28 percent favorably. Anti-Trump firebrand Michael Avenatti received only 14 percent favorable responses and 46 percent unfavorable.
On the Republican side, President Donald Trump maintained a consistent public image: 43 percent of those polled viewed him favorably, while 53 percent viewed him unfavorably. Vice President Mike Pence had a similar rating (44/48).
Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, polled strongly: 41 percent of respondents were favorable and only 28 percent were unfavorable.
For additional data and analysis, visit the GW Politics Poll website. For interviews with the professors leading the poll, contact GW’s press office.
About the GW Politics Poll
The GW Politics Poll is managed jointly by GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, Graduate School of Political Management and Department of Political Science. YouGov, a respected leader in online polling, conducted the academic, nonpartisan research poll for GW. This poll was fielded Dec. 11-19, 2019, with a sample of 1,920 registered voters and a margin of error of ±2 percentage points. This is the fourth of four surveys focused on the 2018 midterm elections. The GW Politics poll interviewed these 1,920 registered voters at four points to track public views over the course of the 2018 election. The first wave in May interviewed 3150 registered voters; the four wave re-interview rate was 61%.
The GW Politics Poll continues the strong tradition of public opinion research at GW, which includes the GW Battleground Poll, a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. The final edition of the GW Battleground Poll was released in March 2018.
YouGov recruits individuals in a variety of ways into their panel and then uses sample matching to create a representative sample from this nonrandomly selected pool. YouGov has constructed a sampling frame of U.S. citizens from the American Community Survey, including data on age, race, gender, education, marital status, number of children under 18, family income, employment status, citizenship, state and metropolitan area.