PRINCETON, NJ -- Given a choice of four priorities for Congress after Tuesday's elections, Democrats overwhelmingly favor passing a new economic stimulus bill, while Republicans are most likely to favor repealing the new healthcare law and cutting federal spending. These partisan differences highlight the challenges that face the lame-duck Congress that will reconvene before the end of the year, as well as the new Congress that will take office in January.
Rank-and-file Democrats clearly look to the government as the appropriate agent to take further action to help the economy and generate jobs -- overwhelmingly choosing a new economic stimulus bill as the highest congressional priority going forward. Rank-and-file Republicans are more interested in pulling back on what government does, in terms of dismantling the healthcare reform bill passed last March and cutting federal spending. Independents' views are generally between those of the two major parties, and basically mirror the overall sentiments of all Americans.
This question about congressional priorities was asked in an Oct. 28-31 pre-election USA Today/Gallup poll. Overall, Americans' top choice among the four priorities for Congress is a new stimulus bill, chosen by 38%. More generally, most Americans choose one of three alternatives -- a new stimulus bill, cutting federal spending, and repealing the new healthcare law, in that order -- with relatively few prioritizing extending all Bush-era federal income tax cuts.
None of the four priorities is chosen by a majority of Americans as their top priority, again illustrating the difficult challenges facing Congress in the post-election period.
Americans' views about what the new Congress should prioritize underscore a consistent theme evident elsewhere in Gallup's research this year -- that Americans are deeply conflicted about the appropriate role of the federal government.
Republicans and conservatives are generally negative about the role of the federal government in American life and want to see its influence diminished rather than expanded. Democrats are more positive about the government's role and view it as an appropriate way in which society's problems can be addressed. Nowhere is this more visible than in the finding that Republicans' No. 1 priority for government after the elections is to dismantle the massive healthcare reform bill passed last March, while Democrats' No. 1 priority is to increase government efforts to help the economy by passing a new economic stimulus bill.
This particular question included only four alternative priorities for respondents to choose among; it is possible that some respondents would volunteer still different priorities for Congress after the elections. But Americans' responses to this particular set of alternatives make it clear that Congress faces the challenge of coming to a consensus on exactly what the federal government should be expected to do and how extensive its involvement in American society should be.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 28-31, 2010, with a random sample of 2,240 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.