PRINCETON, NJ -- Of six key issues facing the United States, the federal budget is the only one for which Americans express a clear preference as to which party can better handle it. On the budget issue, Republicans have a 12-point advantage. The GOP holds slight, but not statistically significant, advantages on four other issues, with Democrats slightly ahead on healthcare.
These results are based on an April 20-23 USA Today/Gallup poll. Gallup last asked Americans to rate the parties on issues in August. At that time, the GOP held an 11-point advantage on the economy (49% to 38%) and a 15-point advantage on immigration (50% to 35%). Those leads, along with several others, have since shrunk.
The lack of differentiation between the parties also extends to several characteristics. Americans are about equally likely to say the Democratic and Republican parties are able to bring about changes the country needs, have mostly honest and ethical members in Congress, and look out for the country's long-term future as well as current problems. In an absolute sense, the parties' ratings on these attributes are not particularly strong, with at best slim majorities saying any of the characteristics describe the parties.
One positive sign for the parties is that Americans are more likely now than they were last fall to believe each can bring about changes the country needs. In October, 43% thought the Republican Party could bring about change and fewer, 40%, believed the Democrats could. Since then, there has been a 10-point increase in the percentage of Americans who believe Democrats can deliver needed change, and a 5-point increase in the belief that Republicans can.
Favorable Ratings of Parties Similar and Little Changed
The most general measure of the parties' images are their favorable ratings, and these, too, are similar in the April 20-23 survey -- 44% for the Republican Party and 43% for the Democratic Party. Americans have rated the parties about equally each time Gallup has asked this question since September 2010.
That is a departure from what Gallup found for most of the time between late 2005 and early 2010, when Americans evaluated the Democratic Party much more positively than the Republican Party.
Neither party seems to have a significant perceptual advantage in the eyes of Americans across a wide variety of dimensions, including issue competence, characteristics, and basic favorability. Americans in general do not view either party that positively, giving each favorable ratings below 50%.
And even for the one dimension -- the federal budget -- on which Americans generally seem to favor the Republican Party over the Democratic Party, it is not clear that they necessarily endorse the specific actions the GOP would take on this issue. The same April 20-23 poll finds Americans evenly divided in their preferences between the specific long-term budget plan Rep. Paul Ryan and the Republicans are promoting and the one President Obama and the Democrats have proposed.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 20-23, 2011, with a random sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.