Democrats and Republicans absolutely do not agree on the most important problems facing the United States, according to a new poll. But they did agree that the nation’s growing partisan divide — which their expressed opinions vividly depicted — is a threat to the country’s future.
The new national survey, done by researchers at the University of South Florida with assistance from researchers at Florida International University, found profound partisan differences on whether the nation’s worst problem is the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, government corruption, inflation, climate change, immigration, race relations or national debt.
“I do think we see very clear evidence here that Republicans and Democrats have fundamentally different priorities,” said Stephen Neely, an associate professor in the USF School of Public Affairs
Nearly 50% of Democrats said the pandemic was the nation’s most important problem, while only 15% of Republicans said so.
Republicans’ top concern as the nation’s worst problem was government corruption, named as such by 19%, while just 6% of Democrats thought so.
Inflation was the top pick as the nation’s worst problem by 12% of Republicans, but only 3% of Democrats.
Immigration was the top pick as the nation’s worst problem by 12% of Republicans but only 2% of Democrats.
Race relations was selected as the nation’s worst problem by 5% of Democrats, and by virtually no Republicans.
The national debt was picked as the nation’s worst problem by 5% of Republicans, and by virtually no Democrats.
Significant partisan splits also were seen on the economy, health care, climate change and unemployment.
Independent voters usually weighed in roughly in the middle between the two groups of partisans.
There were exceptions. For example, independents aligned closely with Democrats on climate change, with 8% of both groups citing it as the nation’s worst problem, while only 1% of Republicans picked climate change.
The survey included a representative sample of 1,000 eligible voters, fielded Jan. 6-10. Full-sample results had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points. The samples were stratified by census region to ensure geographic representation across the country. The breakdown of independents, Democrats and Republicans all were within a half percentage point of national voter registration proportions.
One set of questions found Democrats and Republicans on opposing shores on nearly all specific issues regarding the coronavirus.
Overall, voters gave President Joe Biden a poor report card, top to bottom. He got no better than 44% support, and as low as 32% support, for his handling of a variety of issues: jobs and the economy, foreign policy, race relations, immigration and the border, the pandemic, climate change, and unifying Americans.
“It’s a really rough time for him for sure,” Neely said. “He’s inherited a lot of really heavy issues. It’s a year into his administration at this point. People are starting to look at those as his issues. Is it realistic to believe he could have resolved some of these in his time frame? No, probably not. But certainly, voters are expressing dissatisfaction with the progress they’ve seen. This doesn’t bode well for Democrats in the midterms.”
One thing Democrats, Republicans and independent voters all agreed on: that partisanship and political polarization pose a significant threat to America’s future. Among Republicans, 85% said yes, it does. Among both Democrats and independents, 90% said yes.
Neely noted that does not mean they agree.
“Everyone agrees that partisanship is an issue. They just think that it’s the other side’s partisanship that is the issue,” Neely said.
Yet Neely added that it appears many independents, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans see plenty of issues on which they’re willing to work together.
“While a lot of voters might say, ‘Hey, I think the economy is the most important issue,’ it doesn’t mean they don’t want to work together on COVID or health care or what the others might be. It’s just a matter of what your priorities are,” Neely said.
Among other findings:
— 53% of voters said they would strongly support Biden’s proposed executive order that all businesses with at least 100 employees require their workers to get vaccinated.
That breaks down to 88% of Democrats, 49% of independents and 22% of Republicans.
— 60% of voters said they at least somewhat support a proposed policy to require all domestic airplane flight passengers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
That breaks down to 90% of Democrats, 57% of independents and 35% of Republicans.
— 74% of voters said they are at least somewhat concerned about the emergence of new COVID-19 variants such as omicron.
That breaks down to 94% of Democrats, 70% of independents and 59% of Republicans.
— 71% of voters believed measures such as wearing masks indoors and social distancing are still necessary.
That breaks down to 94% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 50% of Republicans.
— 59% believe vaccines have been effective in protecting Americans from the virus.
That breaks down to 84% of Democrats, 56% of independents and 41% of Republicans.
— 73% of voters believe racism is a significant threat to America’s future.
That breaks down to 92% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 57% of Republicans.
— 74% of voters believe climate change is a significant threat to America’s future.
That breaks down to 93% of Democrats, 75% of independents and 50% of Republicans.
— There was widespread agreement that the national debt is a significant threat to America’s future. Overall, 88% of voters said they believe it is.
Among Republicans, 94% said yes; among independents, 88%; and Democrats, 86%.
— Foreign adversaries, notably China and Russia, also brought consensus. Overall, 85% of voters said they believed them to be a significant threat to America’s future.
Among Republicans, 90% said yes; independents, 84%; and Democrats, 82%.