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Americans Have Mixed Reactions to Jeffords' Decision

Americans Have Mixed Reactions to Jeffords' Decision

Slightly higher numbers of Americans say it will be good for the country rather than bad, but only about a third say it will make a major difference

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The immediate reaction of the American public to Thursday's defection of Vermont Senator James Jeffords from the Republican Party is muted. A snapshot CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Thursday night shows that just about half of the country is following the story closely at this point. A slight plurality feel the move will be good for the country rather than bad, but only a little more than a third say it will make a major difference either way. There is some suggestion in the poll that Americans fear more gridlock will result from Jeffords' move, and mixed feelings about the overall philosophic implications of having one-party control of government.

A total of 641 Americans were interviewed in Thursday night's poll. Fifty percent said they were following news of the Jeffords party change closely. That puts this news story only in the mid-range of news events measured using this same scale over the past decade -- nowhere near such high-profile news stories as the recount drama following last fall's presidential election or the Elian Gonzalez saga of April 2000. Perhaps because the Jeffords decision has the most dramatically negative effect on the GOP, Republicans across the country are significantly more likely to say they have been following the story closely than are either independents or Democrats.

Asked directly whether the decision will be good or bad for the country, 43% of those interviewed in Thursday night's poll say "good," 35% say "bad" and 22% have not yet formed an opinion. There is the predictable partisan response to this question. Republicans and Democrats form a precise mirror image, with 75% of Republicans saying the decision will be bad, while 75% of Democrats say it will be good. Four out of 10 independents have no opinion yet on the move's impact, but the tendency among those who do is to say the move is good for the country.

What will the impact of the Jeffords defection be on the country? There is no groundswell of feeling among Americans that this is a momentous turning point. Only a little more than a third -- 36% -- say the resulting change in party control of the Senate will make a major difference, while 42% say it will make a minor difference. One out of five either say it will make no difference or don't yet have an opinion. On this question there are not major partisan differences, with Republicans just about as likely as Democrats to say it will make a major difference.

The Senate Majority Leader-to-be -- South Dakota Democrat Thomas Daschle -- had a brief phone conversation with President Bush on Thursday and reported that the two promised cooperation in dealing with the new situation in the Senate. Still, the poll finds that half of Americans feel the change from Republican to Democratic control of the Senate will create more gridlock in Washington. Only 15% say it will foster more cooperation. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Republicans predict more gridlock. While Democrats are not nearly as strong in their feelings on this issue, almost four out of 10 also agree that more gridlock is the likely outcome. Just 23% of Democrats say there will be more cooperation.

Senator Jeffords was just re-elected last fall to the Senate as a Republican, and thus has more than five years to serve in his current term. Asked about the suggestion that -- given the switch in party -- Jeffords should resign immediately and run for re-election as an independent, Americans in essence say "no need." Just 35% endorse that course, while 58% say it is fine for Jeffords to serve out his term "with whatever party he chooses."

In making his decision to leave the Republican Party and become an independent, Jeffords contended that the Republican Party had become too conservative. About half of Americans -- including 20% of Republicans -- agree with that assertion, while 42% disagree.

One-night polls like this one provide an excellent portrait of the immediate reaction of the public to breaking news. Quite often, the overall impact of the decision on Americans' view of their government and the current political situation in Washington will change in the days and weeks to come, as Americans are exposed to news media interpretation and the usual political "spin" on the events.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 641 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 24, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 4 percentage points. 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.

 

 

Jim Jeffords, a U.S. Senator from Vermont, announced today that he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent.

How closely have you been following the news about Jeffords' decision -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

 

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely


Not at all

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2001 May 24

         

National adults

16

34

18

31

1

           

Republicans

23

39

16

21

1

Independents

11

33

14

41

1

Democrats

15

30

23

32

*



As you may know, Jeffords' decision to become an independent will now give Democrats control of the Senate.

Overall, do you think Jeffords' decision will be good or bad for the country?

 

 

Good for
the country

Bad for
the country

No
opinion

%

%

%

2001 May 24

     

National adults

43

35

22

       

Republicans

14

75

11

Independents

38

22

40

Democrats

75

9

16



How much of a difference do you think Jeffords' decision will make to the country -- [ROTATED: a major difference, a minor difference], or no difference at all?

 

 

Major
difference

Minor
difference

No
difference

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2001 May 24

       

National adults

36

42

15

7

         

Republicans

39

47

9

5

Independents

26

44

19

11

Democrats

40

37

16

7



As you may know, Senator Jeffords just won re-election for six years after running as a Republican. Now that he has decided to become an independent, what comes closer to your point of view -- [ROTATED: Jeffords should resign immediately and run for re-election as an independent, (or) Jeffords should remain in office and fulfill his six-year term with whatever party he chooses]?

 

 

Should resign immediately

Should remain
in office

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

2001 May 24

     

National adults

35

58

7

       

Republicans

58

37

5

Independents

31

57

12

Democrats

17

78

5



As a result of this, what do you think will happen between the Republicans and Democrats in Washington? Do you think there will be -- [ROTATED: more cooperation, more gridlock] -- or will there be no change?

 

 

More cooperation


More gridlock


No change


No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

2001 May 24

       

National adults

15

50

30

5

         

Republicans

10

67

21

2

Independents

11

44

38

7

Democrats

23

39

31

7



Senator Jeffords said one reason that he left the Republican Party is that the party has become too conservative under President Bush. Do you agree or disagree?

 

 

Agree

Disagree

No opinion

 

%

%

%

2001 May 24

     

National adults

50

42

8

       

Republicans

20

78

2

Independents

54

31

15

Democrats

75

19

6



Do you think it is better for the country to have a [ROTATED: president who comes from the same political party that controls Congress, (or do you think it is better to have a) president from one political party and Congress controlled by another]?

 

 



Same party



Different party

NO DIFFERENCE
(vol.)/
No opinion

 

%

%

%

2001 May 24

     

National adults

36

42

22

       

Republicans

49

30

21

Independents

27

44

29

Democrats

31

50

19

       
       

Gallup Trend:

     

2000 Oct 6-9

47

40

13

1998 Apr 17-19 ^

40

42

18

1997 Sep 25-28 ^

31

45

24

1997 Aug 22-25 ^

42

41

17

1994 Oct 7-9 ^

45

37

18

1994 Jan 15-17 ^

46

36

18

1993 Aug 8-10 ^

48

37

15

       

CBS/NYT Trend:

     

1992 Sep

47

31

22

1989 Sep

35

45

20

       

^ Items not rotated in Gallup polls from 1993-1998.



(vol.) Volunteered response
* Less than 0.5%

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