Public Sees Political Gridlock Hampering Economy in Poll

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Americans see little prospect that President Barack Obama and Congress can get much done beyond keeping the government open for the next few months.

A Bloomberg National Poll finds 78 percent of respondents say the political gridlock in Washington will hurt the nation’s economy in 2014.

Large majorities say they want the government to ensure the new health-care law functions well, that policy makers agree to revise the tax code, and that an accord is reached to provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Yet most doubt those things can be accomplished in the current political environment, with 43 percent blaming Republicans in Congress for the dysfunction and 37 percent faulting Obama and the Democrats.

“We have lost the heart and soul of a democracy,” says poll respondent Deirdre Christenberry, 67, a retired teacher living in Augusta, Georgia, in a follow-up interview. “Negotiations are not win-win,” she says. “They’re just trying to crush each other and nothing can get done.”

Christenberry, an independent who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, blames Republicans most, calling them “rigid” and “split among themselves.” She has also lost hope in a president who pushed what she considers a poorly conceived health-care law that “actually is income redistribution, which I am against.”

Keeping Faith

The telephone survey of 1,004 adults was taken Dec. 6-9. On Dec. 10, U.S. budget negotiators unveiled an agreement to ease automatic federal spending cuts by about $63 billion over two years and reduce the deficit by $23 billion. The bipartisan plan, which breaks a three-year cycle of fiscal standoffs, will face a vote in the Republican-led House as early as today.

The majority of poll respondents say they still have faith that a government that once put a man on the moon and built an interstate highway system can conceive and execute big ideas.

Even in light of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s troubled rollout -- featuring a glitch-plagued federal enrollment website and reports of canceled insurance policies and rising premiums -- 54 percent say the government is capable of such feats, while 41 percent say it isn’t.

Dim View

The public has a dim view of both Republicans -- who draw favorable ratings from 37 percent and a negative view from 53 percent -- and Democrats, seen positively by 43 percent compared with 49 percent who rate them unfavorably. And they see grave results flowing from the paralysis in Washington.

The almost four-fifths of respondents who say the logjam would affect growth is “a monster number,” says J. Ann Selzer, director of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “They’re seeing that not getting things done has real consequences for economic growth.”

The U.S. economy, the world’s largest, will probably expand 1.7 percent this year before picking up in 2014 to 2.6 percent, according to the median estimate of 73 economists in a Bloomberg survey from Nov. 8 to Nov. 13. The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has risen about 25 percent this year.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents say they want Congress and the Obama administration to make sure people who sign up for health insurance under the new law will have plans and doctors they like and premiums they can afford. Sixty-three percent say it’s unlikely they will do so, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.

Not Happening

The 35 percent who say it is likely to happen includes 61 percent of Democrats, the only group in which a majority was confident that the health-care law will work as billed. Two-thirds of independents say it’s unlikely.

“In theory, that would be great, but in reality, that’s not going to happen -- nothing is,” says Josh Hammett, 36, of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Obama “made a promise that we could keep our doctors, keep our health insurance, and our premiums would be the same or lower, and now it’s, no, we can’t necessarily keep our doctors,” he says. “They’ve already warned us at work our plan is going to change dramatically, and obviously the costs are going to skyrocket. So their promises amounted to nothing.”

On taxes, 83 percent say they want to see Congress and the administration agree to reduce rates, limit deductions and simplify the system, while less than one-fifth say that’s likely. On immigration, almost two-thirds say they want an accord to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million foreign-born individuals living in the U.S. without authorization, yet not even a quarter think one will be reached.

‘Stupid Choices’

“The Republicans are making stupid choices and the Democrats are all idiots,” says poll respondent Tara Thompson, a 41-year-old Republican living in Macclenny, Florida. “If people are here and they’re working and they’re not sitting around doing nothing, I think they should be given some rights, but they’ll never do anything about immigration. They’re too busy fighting about nothing and shutting down the government.”

Thompson’s comments illuminate rifts the survey shows within the Republican Party, which draws less rosy reviews from its own adherents than does the Democratic Party.

One-fifth of self-described Republicans rate their own party unfavorably, compared with 13 percent of Democrats who have negative views of their party. When it comes to apportioning blame for Washington dysfunction, 12 percent of self-described Republicans tag their own party’s members of Congress -- double the amount of Democrats who point at Obama and their party’s lawmakers.

Sharing Blame

“There’s a little bit of admission here that their own party may be part of the problem,” Selzer says of Republicans.

While majorities of independents rate both parties unfavorably, more of them give Democrats positive marks than approve of Republicans. They are evenly split over whom to blame for what is wrong in Washington, with 39 percent faulting the president and his party and 39 percent pointing at congressional Republicans.

Respondents seem sure of just one thing: that Congress and the president will avoid a second government shutdown following the 16-day partial closure in October. Eighty-four percent say they should do so and 64 percent said it was likely such a crisis would be averted.

The poll indicates the public is torn over what actions should or will be taken to address the economy’s challenges.

Stoking Growth

A narrow majority of 52 percent says Congress and the Obama administration should spend more federal money to stoke growth and create jobs, while 46 percent disagree. They’re about evenly split on whether another round of such spending is likely, with 49 percent saying it is and 50 percent saying it isn’t.

There is little support for slashing federal entitlement programs for the elderly and disabled, with just over a quarter saying they back cutting Social Security and Medicare spending while 71 percent are opposed. That’s true across the political parties, with even those who identify themselves as adherents to the small-government Tea Party rejecting entitlement cuts by a margin of 67 percent to 30 percent.

“They promised folks we’re going to take care of you, so you can’t just pull the rug out from under people,” says Hammett, a Tea Party supporter. “The problem is they’re spending so much of our money on other things we don’t need.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at jdavis159@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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