Cooperation vs. Confrontation: Do Nice Guys Finish First?

New ABC News/Yahoo! News poll.

ByABC News
October 18, 2010, 8:54 AM

Oct. 19, 2010 -- 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.