PRINCETON, NJ -- In the wake of Republican Scott Brown's victory in Tuesday's U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, the majority of Americans (55%) favor Congress' putting the brakes on its current healthcare reform efforts and considering alternatives that can obtain more Republican support. Four in 10 Americans (39%) would rather have House and Senate Democrats continue to try to pass the bill currently being negotiated in conference committee.
"A minority of 32% of Americans say President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress are right to make healthcare reform their top priority at this time."
The USA Today/Gallup poll was conducted Jan. 20 to gauge initial reaction from Americans to Brown's victory in the special election to fill the remainder of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's term. Massachusetts voters elected a Republican to the Senate for the first time since 1972. Americans widely agree that the election result has national political implications -- 72% say it reflects many Americans' frustrations, which the president and members of Congress should pay attention to, while 18% believe it is a reflection of political conditions in Massachusetts.
Brown campaigned against the healthcare reform efforts and promised if elected to be the crucial 41st Senate vote against it, which would allow Republicans to successfully block its passage.
According to the poll, most self-identified Democrats (67%) want Congress to continue working toward passage of the bill. However, an even larger majority of Republicans (87%) call for suspension of Congress' current work on the bill. The majority of political independents, whose support has been crucial to recent Republican election victories in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey, would also prefer to see the reform efforts put on hold rather than moved forward.
The public's desire to slow down the Democrats' healthcare reform efforts also appears to reflect doubts about whether the issue deserves the attention political leaders in Washington have given it over the past several months. A minority of 32% of Americans say President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress are right to make healthcare reform their top priority at this time. In contrast, 46% acknowledge health reform as an important goal but believe other problems should be addressed first, and an additional 19% reject the idea that healthcare should be a major legislative priority.
The poll attempted to gauge Americans' political mood more generally by asking them to describe their feelings about the progress the Obama administration has made in its first year. Thirty-nine percent of Americans say they are pleased with the progress President Obama has made in addressing the problems facing the country, but nearly as many, 37%, say they are upset because they believe his policies are moving the country in the wrong direction. That leaves a middle group of 20% of Americans who describe themselves as disappointed with Obama's progress because they thought he would have achieved more by now.
Given Obama's job approval rating of roughly 50%, clearly some Americans who express disappointment with the president's lack of progress still generally approve of the job he is doing.
For the most part, Democrats are pleased with the progress Obama has made in his first year, but 18% say they are disappointed and 8% believe he is moving the country in the wrong direction. Republicans' views are nearly mirror images of Democrats', with 75% upset with his policies but a relatively small group of 8% pleased with his approach. There are roughly as many independents pleased with Obama's work (35%) as upset with it (35%), while one in four independents say they are disappointed.
Obama and the Democrats are on a bit of a losing streak heading into the midterm election year, having lost recent elections for high office in three states. However, even though these recent elections have gone in the Republicans' favor, it's not entirely clear that Americans are ready for a Republican takeover of Congress. The poll finds 40% of Americans saying the country would be better off if the Democrats controlled Congress, and 36% saying it would be better off if the Republicans controlled it. The remainder have no opinion or volunteer that it doesn't make a difference which party controls Congress.
That result is fairly typical of what Gallup has found historically, with Americans about equally divided as to which party is better to control Congress but showing a slight tilt in favor of the Democrats. However, it is important to note these opinions are based on all Americans, not necessarily those who will vote in November's elections. Turnout in midterm elections typically favors the Republican Party.
Brown's election shook up the political world in both Massachusetts and Washington. President Obama has indicated he would like Congress to hold off on healthcare reform until Brown is seated, which is consistent with the public's wishes to suspend work on the bill. But the public is also not convinced that healthcare should be the top priority for the government at this time and endorses finding alternatives that can gain Republican support, which the bill under consideration has not received. Americans may therefore prefer a longer pause on the issue -- one that stretches well beyond the time Brown is seated.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted January 20, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular telephones.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.