Don't Go Polling for Clarity

Two polls this week had mixed news for Republicans and Democrats.
President Obama will have to do more than wave to give Democrats a chance in November. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The two most highly-regarded national polls, conducted by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal-NBC News, released new findings this week. In the context of the current political climate and the Congressional election this November, there were more positive results for Republicans. Longer term, however, public opinion tilts in favor of the Democrats.

Both polls offered a portrait of an American public that doesn't fit into a neat ideological identity or classify simply as center-right or center-left. Public opinion appears to be full of independent political strains and contradictions about major issues.

When respondents in the polls were asked questions about reducing spending and the size of government, Republicans did well. On policy priorities, such as caring about the middle class, Democrats fared better.

Several issues underscore this political ambivalence.

The Affordable Care Act continues to be unpopular. A majority of respondents in the WSJ-NBC poll said the health-care law was a bad idea. And in the Bloomberg poll, people held a negative view of the president's handling of health care by a similar 14-point margin.

Yet when the Bloomberg poll asked if the health-care law should be repealed, slightly modified or left alone, only one third of those polled favored repeal. A majority preferred only to tweak the law, and one in eight wanted no changes made to the law. Moreover, many of the individual components of the law are popular.

Democrats will love the Bloomberg finding that, by a 69 percent to 28 percent margin, Americans want to raise the minimum wage. Yet when asked about a Congressional Budget Office study that showed a minimum wage hike would increase the wages for 16.5 million Americans but may eliminate 500,000 jobs, the public, by a healthy margin, said the cost of increasing the minimum wage would then be unacceptable.

The president was given a negative rating for his handling of the situation in Ukraine. But only 20 percent in the Bloomberg poll agree that the crisis was caused by the weakness of Obama's foreign policy -- a charge made by many Republicans. Sixty-two percent attribute the crisis to Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressiveness. According to the WSJ-NBC poll, only 5 percent of Americans favor unilateral action in Ukraine.

President Barack Obama gets mediocre to poor grades pretty much across the board, including for his handling of the economy. And there are signs he will be a political liability for Democrats in November. The WSJ-NBC poll respondents gave a one point edge to Republicans heading into this year's elections. Most experts believe though that given population patterns and the redrawing of congressional districts, the Democrats need to be at least three or four points ahead to have any chance of recapturing the majority in the House.

Looking further ahead, there is more hope for Democrats. Hillary Clinton, the party's leading presidential hopeful for 2016, remains relatively popular while numbers for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, once the Republican Party's front runner, are plummeting.

Independents, which made up 46 percent of the Bloomberg poll, are still the swing bloc but are less engaged politically than partisan respondents. In the poll, 77 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats said they would likely vote this November. Only 57 percent of independents said the same.

By about five to 10 percentage points, more people self-identify as Democrats and both polls suggest that Americans are evenly split in their views regarding the Democratic Party. However, they are decidedly negative about the Republican brand.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.