Cooperation vs. Confrontation: Do Nice Guys Finish First?

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If nice guys finished first, Barack Obama might be riding high.

So suggests the latest ABC News/Yahoo! News poll, in which Obama far outpoints other players on the political scene in being seen as cooperative rather than confrontational. Others are much more apt to be viewed as focused on political division -- from the mainstream news media to conservative radio hosts, from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to both parties in Congress.

Life, though, is not that simple. Obama's rating as cooperative rests on his towering support from Democrats, and narrower-but-still-majority backing among independents; it plummets among Republicans. And cooperation isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be: While most Americans still prefer it, their numbers have gone down in the heat of the 2010 election campaign.

Click Here for PDF With Charts and Questionnaire

Overall, the public, by 57 percent to 37 percent, says it's preferable for leaders to "try to cooperate across party lines, even if it means compromising on important issues" than to stick with their positions, if that means a lack of cooperation. But this has subsided from a broader, 35-point margin, 66-31 percent, in an ABC News/Washington Post poll in February 2009. Preference for cooperation is down by 9 points; for sticking to your guns, up by 6.

A boost in election-related partisanship will do that. And interestingly, the decline in preference for cooperation has been steepest (12 points) among Democrats and independents. It's flatter among Republicans, who were less enamored of the kumbaya thing in the first place.

GETTING ALONG -- Who's seen as more interested in political cooperation rather than division. Obama's the only one to score positively for cooperation, by 59-36 percent, among eight groups or individuals tested in this survey, produced for ABC News and Yahoo! News by Langer Research Associates. The Democrats in Congress follow, but very distantly: Forty-four percent see them as more interested in encouraging cooperation, vs. 50 percent as more divisive.

ABC News/Yahoo! News Poll on Political Confrontation

Views change sharply from there: Sarah Palin's seen as more interested in political division than in cooperation by 56-34 percent; the Tea Party political movement gets a very similar 56-31 percent. And the Republicans in Congress, the mainstream media, conservative radio talk show hosts and cable news programs all are seen as more interested in division by 2-1 margins.

Which is preferable depends on your point of view. By wide margins, moderates and liberals alike say it's more important to them that leaders cooperate than that they stick to their positions. Conservatives, by contrast, divide evenly on the question. Also, if it means compromise, cooperation is less popular with younger adults than it is with their elders.

PARTISANS -- Ideology is a bigger factor than partisanship; Democrats, Republicans and independents all prefer cooperation by similar margins. But both partisanship and ideology are huge factors in who is viewed as more cooperative than divisive.

Among Democrats, for instance, 87 percent think Obama's more interested in cooperation than in division. That falls to 53 percent among independents and just 28 percent among Republicans. And 71 percent of Democrats see their party's Congress members as on the side of cooperation; just 36 percent of independents and two in 10 Republicans agree.

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