PRINCETON, NJ -- As Republican leaders openly scrutinize their party after a 2012 election that was disappointing for them, rank-and-file Republicans, independents, and Democrats voice the same primary criticism of the GOP: it is "too inflexible" or "unwilling to compromise." When asked to say what they most dislike about the Republican Party, 26% of Republicans, 17% of independents, and 22% of Democrats offer this critique -- leading all other mentions.
These results come from a March 20-21 Gallup poll asking Americans to name, in their own words, one or two things they like about each of the two major parties and, separately, one or two things they dislike.
Among Republicans, the criticism that their party is too rigid in its approach is partially offset by the views of a sizable minority, 14%, who say the Republican Party gives in too easily or doesn't stand up for its positions. Relatedly, 6% say the party is dishonest or inconsistent in its positions.
Seven percent of Republicans mention that they dislike their party's choice of candidates and/or leaders, echoing a public critique of the GOP recently advanced by Karl Rove, former political adviser to George W. Bush.
Essentially, then, Republicans are much more likely to criticize their own party for its style or approach than for its substance.
In terms of policy positions, the top criticism Republicans level at the GOP is that it supports too much government spending that increased the budget deficit, named by 4%. The top knock on Republicans by Democrats (20%) and independents (10%) is what they call the Republicans' focus on the rich or protecting the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
Other issue-based critiques of the GOP named by at least 3% of Democrats include its positions on social issues (8%), abortion (6%), immigration (4%), favoring big business (4%), and gay marriage (3%). An additional 4% cite the influence of religion on the party and 3% say it is too conservative. By contrast, in addition to spending, the only policy-oriented criticism that as many as 3% of Republicans level at their own party is its broad position on social issues (3%).
Democrats Less Critical of Their Own Party
Democratic President Barack Obama's victory in November largely ratified the Democratic Party's brand and approach to reaching out to voters, and that seems to be reflected in the high proportion of Democrats -- 51% -- who say there isn't anything they dislike about their party or who offer no opinion. This contrasts with 33% of Republicans who can't think of anything to criticize in their own party.
Still, that leaves roughly half of Democrats who name something. The most common responses are that their party supports spending too much/increasing the deficit (10%), poor leadership (6%), and putting too much emphasis on government entitlements (6%).
Also, but in contrast with the high proportion of Republicans saying this about their own party, 6% of Democrats say the Democratic Party is inflexible or not willing to compromise. At the same time, an equal percentage say it is too weak or compromises too much, and 4% say it is indecisive or can't deliver results.
Republicans' top criticism of the Democrats is government spending, mentioned by 23%, but about half as many mention the Democrats' inflexibility (12%), their emphasis on entitlements (12%), poor leadership, including Obama specifically (12%), and support for big government (10%).
Republicans Praised for Fiscal Conservatism
The most common Republican attributes Americans cite for why they like the Republican Party are its "better fiscal management" or budget cuts and, broadly, its conservative views. Each is mentioned by 20% of Republicans. These are also the top GOP attributes independents and Democrats say they like, although by much smaller percentages than among Republicans. Sixty percent of Democrats and 36% of independents say there is nothing they like about the Republican Party.
Additionally, Republicans commend the Republican Party for its positions on a variety of specific issues, including its morals/ethics (9%), its support for smaller government (8%), and its stances on taxes (6%), abortion (6%), guns (6%), economic policies (4%), healthcare (3%), and the military (3%).
Democratic Party Praised Most for Representing the Middle Class
Caring about the middle or working class emerges as the top thing Democrats and independents -- as well as Republicans, to a far lesser degree -- cite as what they like about the Democratic Party. Relatively large segments of Democrats also mention the party's inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity (9%), its support for social programs (8%), and its stances on abortion (7%), healthcare (6%), gay rights (4%), job creation (4%), the economy (4%), immigration (3%), gun control (3%), equal rights (3%), and taxes (3%).
Sixty-one percent of Republicans say they like "nothing" about the Democratic Party, matching the percentage of Democrats who say this about the GOP. The 35% of independents who say they like nothing about the Democratic Party is also roughly equivalent to the percentage of independents with nothing positive to say about the Republican Party.
Americans can name plenty of things they like and dislike about both major political parties today, and no single factor dominates either's image. However, a few things stand out as significant advantages and liabilities for each. Most prominently, the idea that the Republican leadership is inflexible and unwilling to compromise with the Democrats overshadows all other criticisms leveled at the GOP, both within and outside its ranks.
For almost every issue that some people (mostly Republicans) cite as positive about the Republican Party, others (mainly Democrats and independents) cite it as a negative. The negatives heavily outweigh the positives with respect to Republicans' perceived rigidity and perceived support for the rich. In some cases, positive and negative mentions of the party's positions roughly cancel each other out, including on abortion, immigration, and "economic policies." However, the GOP enjoys a positive tilt in the balance of views about its support for lower spending, smaller government, lower taxes, and its general conservatism. This may indicate that a key to Republicans' regaining favor with Americans is not necessarily to change their positions, but to be perceived as less dogmatic about them and willing to compromise to pass legislation. Of course, some Republicans oppose this position, including the 14% who say their party already compromises too much.
The leading positive perception of the Democratic Party nationally is that it cares about the middle or working class (a prominent sentiment among both Democrats and independents); however, this is matched by the percentage saying it spends too much money (a top negative mention among all party groups). Healthcare, gay marriage/gay rights, and abortion elicit equally high mentions as reasons people like or dislike the Democratic Party, while the impact of its policies on gun control (2% like the party's position; 4% dislike it), and taxes (1% vs. 4%) tilt slightly negative.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking March 20-21, 2013, with a random sample of 1,020 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.