On Bipartisanship, Room for Improvement

Feb 9, 2010 2:00pm

As President Obama urged greater cooperation in a meeting today with House and Senate leaders from both parties, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll underscores the public’s view of goings-on in the nation’s capital: Can’t they just get along?

Obama and Republican leaders alike stand plenty of room for improvement on bipartisanship, the poll finds, though Obama’s rated far better than the opposition on this score. And playing nice couldn’t hurt, given the public’s pressing agenda – from the economy to continued interest in health care reform.

A substantial 44 percent of Americans say Obama himself is doing “too little” to compromise with the Republican leaders in Congress on important issues. But while that’s hardly ideal, the GOP leaders do worse; 58 percent of Americans say they’re not trying hard enough. Even among Republicans, a surprising 44 percent say their own leaders aren’t doing enough to cooperate.

Even with that self-criticism these views are sharply partisan, with each side far more apt to say it’s the others who aren’t playing nicely – indicating the challenges of cooperation. Still, very few, 8 or 9 percent, say either Obama or the Republicans are doing “too much” to try to get along. That marks the desire for progress.

               Efforts at compromise           Too little  About right  Too muchObama          44%         45          9GOP leaders    58          30          8

While jobs and the economy remain the big kahuna in public priorities, health care’s an example in which cooperation could help. The current plan, minted by Obama and the Democrats, never has achieved majority support. Yet that doesn’t mean the public likes the current system: Americans by nearly a 2-1 margin in this poll, 63-34 percent, want lawmakers in Washington to keep trying to pass comprehensive health care reform, not to give up on it.

Again, though, the devil’s in the partisan details. While a vast 88 percent of Democrats want lawmakers to keep pushing on comprehensive reform, just half as many Republicans, 42 percent, agree. The tie-breaker, as usual, goes to independents; 56 percent in this group want to see Obama and the Congress keep trying to pass a comprehensive reform plan.

Partisanship also is prominent in views of, well, partisanship, particularly when it comes to Obama. Seventy-three percent of Republicans say he’s done too little to compromise with the Republican leaders in Congress. Fifty percent of independents agree, but just 13 percent of Democrats see it that way.

Conversely, 72 percent of Democrats say the leaders of the GOP have done too little to compromise, and 56 percent of independents say the same. As noted, 44 percent of Republicans criticize their own party’s leaders for non-cooperation.

Efforts at compromise - “too little”          Obama   GOP leadersAll      44%       58%Dems     13        72Inds     50        56Reps     73        44 

Ideology’s another powerful influence, one that suggests compromise won’t necessarily weaken these actors among their base supporters. Contrary to some buzz, relatively few liberals, 14 percent, say Obama’s doing “too much” to compromise with the Republican leaders. And relatively few conservatives, 11 percent, say the GOP leaders are doing too much to compromise with Obama.

The question is whether, within these views, the parties can find both the will, and the wiggle room, to work together.

Click here for details on these results, and check back tomorrow morning for more on our latest ABC/Post poll, here and on Good Morning America.

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