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Americans Favor Compromise to Get Things Done in Washington

Americans Favor Compromise to Get Things Done in Washington

Story Highlights

  • The 18% who think leaders should stick to their principles is a new low
  • 28% take a neutral position on the issue
  • 44% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats favor compromise

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifty-four percent of Americans want political leaders in Washington to compromise to get things done. This far outpaces the 18% who would prefer that leaders stick to their beliefs even if little gets done, while the views of 28% fall somewhere in between. The gap between compromise and sticking to principles is the widest in Gallup's trend.

More Important for Leaders in Washington to Stick to Their Beliefs or Compromise?

This measure, updated in Gallup's September Governance poll for the eighth time since 2010, uses a 5-point scale, where "1" represents the belief that it is important to compromise to get things done and "5" represents the belief that it is important for leaders to stick to their principles even if little gets done. This analysis combines the "1" and "2" responses to reach the percentage of Americans favoring compromise, and the "4" and "5" responses to reach the percentage in favor of sticking to principles.

These attitudes have continuing relevance in light of Americans' low levels of confidence in government and in the legislative branch in particular. Although Americans hold Congress in low esteem for a number of reasons, its failure to compromise to get things done is certainly one of them. The most recent examples came when Republicans in Congress twice abandoned efforts to change the Affordable Care Act because they were unable to agree on acceptable substitute legislation.

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President Donald Trump reached across the political aisle last month when he met with Democratic House and Senate leaders to discuss the status of children now protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer subsequently announced a deal had been reached, but its ultimate status is in doubt, partly because many Republican leaders in Congress are opposed.

In contrast to GOP leaders' intransigence in some situations like this one, 44% of national rank-and-file Republicans and independents who lean Republican prefer that leaders compromise, while just 23% favor leaders sticking to their beliefs. For their part, 62% of Democrats and Democratic leaners favor compromise, while 12% favor the "stick to principles" alternative.

Republicans' and Democrats' attitudes have shifted marginally over the past several years. But the same basic partisan patterns of responses to the question have persisted, with Democrats being more likely than Republicans to favor compromise, even after a shift from a Democratic to a Republican president.

More Important for Leaders in Washington to Stick to Beliefs or Compromise?
  2013 2014 2016 2017
  % % % %
Republicans/Republican leaners  
More important to stick to beliefs 33 32 22 23
Neutral 25 31 29 33
More important to compromise 42 37 48 44
Democrats/Democratic leaners  
More important to stick to beliefs 19 13 20 12
Neutral 17 18 24 24
More important to compromise 63 67 56 62

Very Conservative Americans Favor Sticking to Beliefs Over Compromise

There is a strong, predictable relationship between ideology and beliefs about how political leaders should operate, based on aggregated data from the last three times the question has been asked. Liberals and moderates favor compromise much more than conservatives. But only among those who describe themselves as "very conservative" -- about 8% of the overall population -- does sentiment in favor of leaders sticking to beliefs outweigh the "compromise" alternative.

Very Conservative Only Group to Say Political Leaders Should Stick to Beliefs Rather Than Compromise

Bottom Line

Congress faces a number of important votes in the months ahead, including appropriations and debt ceiling bills that will be necessary to avoid a government shutdown. During the last shutdown, in October 2013 -- caused by an inability on the part of congressional leaders to compromise on a budget bill -- Americans gave Congress its lowest job approval rating in Gallup's history. Americans' negative reactions to that instance of putting ideology above action, plus the current data showing that Americans favor compromise above sticking to principles, make it clear that the public will most likely have little tolerance if their elected representatives cannot reach agreement on key legislation between now and the end of the year.

From a longer-term perspective, the prospect of more candidates running for the House and Senate next year who are less interested in compromise and more interested in sticking to beliefs could provide challenges to Americans' broad sentiment in favor of compromise. This trend is exemplified by the recent Republican primary victory of ideologically rigid Roy Moore, who is seeking to fill the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If elected, Moore's historical behavior suggests he could join other conservative senators in standing on principle regardless of the implications for passing legislation.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-10, 2017, with a random sample of 1,022 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 3,059 national adults interviewed in the aggregated sample for 2014, 2016 and 2017, the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

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