Cooperation vs. Confrontation: Do Nice Guys Finish First?

VIDEO: Battle for Control of
WATCH Battle for Control of Congress

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.

Notably, among liberal or moderate independents, 62 percent think Obama's focused more on cooperation. Among conservative independents that plummets to 38 percent.

Across the aisle the tables turn, though the differences are less sharp. A bare majority of Republicans, 52 percent, think their own party's leaders are more interested in cooperation than in division; 34 percent of independents and just 13 percent of Democrats agree. Similarly, 52 percent of Republicans see Palin as more cooperative than divisive; that drops to 35 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats. And 45 percent of Republicans see the Tea Party mainly as encouraging cooperation, vs. 36 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats.

ABC News/Yahoo! News Poll on Political Confrontation

Majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans alike -- 69, 58 and 58 percent -- think conservative talk show hosts are more interested in encouraging political division than cooperation. Only among Americans who describe their own political views as "very conservative" is there a close division -- 48-43 percent -- on whether conservative talk radio hosts are working toward cooperation or division.

Virtually across the board, majorities also say both the mainstream media and cable news programs are more interested in division than in fostering political cooperation, with these sentiments peaking among Republicans and conservatives.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Yahoo News! poll was conducted Oct. 6-12, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,025 adults. Respondents were selected using an address-based sample design. Households for which a phone number could be ascertained were contacted by phone; others were contacted by mail and asked to complete the survey via a toll-free inbound phone number or the internet. See details here. Results for the full sample have a 4-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error.

This survey was produced by Langer Research Associates of New York, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS of Media, Pa.

ABC News polls can be found at at