Post-election America still divided
November 21st, 2012
10:54 AM ET

Post-election America still divided

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Bruce Stokes is the Pew Research Center’s director of Global Economic Attitudes. The views expressed are his own.

The election is over. The voters have spoken. Now the work begins. But there is little evidence that the American public wants its leaders to put aside their partisan differences now that the campaigning is finished.

The most pressing economic policy issue confronting Congress and the White House is, undoubtedly, the end-of-the-year deadline for agreeing on a comprehensive plan to reduce the U.S. deficit and debt. Barring agreement, automatic spending cuts and tax increases will kick in, possibly triggering a recession.

Americans are united in their worries about the adverse economic impact of hurdling over this “fiscal cliff.” But they remain divided over what to do about this challenge. And, more broadly, they disagree about the need for their leaders to compromise and about the future political direction of their parties.

About two-thirds of the public think that automatic tax increases and spending cuts will have a major effect on the economy and 62 percent say it will be negative, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. They are more worried about the impact on the nation than they are about the consequences for their own financial situation, which may reflect the fact that 40 percent say they do not well understand the potential impact of going over the fiscal cliff.

More from CNN: Mayors urge fiscal cliff compromise

Despite their concern, just over half of the public does not think that President Obama and the Republican members of Congress can reach an agreement to avert going over the cliff. Two-thirds of Republicans surveyed are particularly pessimistic about a deal.

Their doubts may reflect their own ambivalence: while most agree with the general principle that deficit reduction will require a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, there are few specific fiscal remedies that garner much support.

Among a dozen specific options for reducing the debt and deficit, only two win majority approval from the public – raising taxes on annual incomes over $250,000 (64 percent approve) and limiting corporate tax deductions (58 percent), according to an October 2012 Pew Research Center poll. Just over half oppose cuts in defense spending or an increase in the eligibility age for Social Security, and people are divided over other options that have been suggested, such as means testing Medicare benefits or limiting mortgage interest deductions.

Pessimism about resolving the impasse over the fiscal cliff may also be a byproduct of the continuing partisan divide among the public.

More from CNN: Diehards in denial

Broad majorities of all voters say they want Barack Obama (72 percent) and the Republican leadership (67 percent) to work with the other side to get things done over the coming year. But the principle supporters of bipartisanship are independents. Each party’s political base, meanwhile, sends another signal. Half of Republicans want GOP leaders to stand up to Obama, even if less gets done. And just 54 percent of Democrats want the president to try to work with Republicans.

All this means that the prospects for bridging this divide may be slim, with two-thirds of voters saying they think partisan relations are likely to stay about the same or get worse.

But even that may prove optimistic. Fully 60 percent of Republican voters and 70 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans want the GOP to move in a more conservative direction, while over half of Democrats want their party to move in a more moderate direction. And even liberal Democrats are divided on their party’s course.

Those who thought that a clear-cut verdict in the recent presidential election would finally break the partisan deadlock in Washington may find themselves disappointed. Facing the first post-election national policy debate, the public’s avowed support for bipartisanship is belied by continued divisions over how to tackle the country’s fiscal woes, Republican voters’ distaste for working across the aisle and a GOP desire for their party to become even more conservative.

As the French say: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

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Topics: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Economy • United States

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. GOPtard

    The GOP solution: Tax cuts for the rich to create jobs in India and China. Tax cuts for the rich to increase spending on the military. Tax cuts for the rich to increase spending on the infrastructure. Tax cuts for the rich to increase spending on education. Tax cuts for the rich to increase spending on citizens' well being. Tax cuts for the rich to increase spending on research. Tax cuts for the rich to fund...........MORE TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  2. George Stoddard

    Unfortunately the recent election failed to more fully inform the public about the details of the issues that we have faced for years and now threaten the very future of our nation. It is clear that a sound economic policy for the future can be developed from the recommendations of the Simpson/Bowles and Rivlin/Domenici committees. The media continues to focus on labels and sound bites rather than more broadly describing and detailing our complex options. But, then of course in this ratings centric media environment the media would pay a heavy price by focusing on substance. The information is readily available on sources other than the MSM, talk radio, and Fox but it it requires interest and motivation to seek it out. In the end we in the public are responsible for the quality or lack thereof of our government.

    November 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    In a democracy it's quite normal that voters are divided and the political landscape becomes fragmented. But when a serious crisis or an imminent threat takes its toll on the collective consciousness of the nation, people will unite and show solidarity with the leadership, if it takes the right course of action.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  4. fernace

    If We the People are the true goverment, then We need to educate ourselves on the issues & the representatives we send to Washington! It's our own fault if we keep voting in people who refuse to work together, due to protecting their own agendas! I used to think that when 1 party's administration was voted in, the other party was there to keep it in check w/discussion & compromise, so that too many extreme policies were not put in place! Only the things both parties could agree on would become policy! I don't think that anymore! Now I see the parties as "sports teams" that keep the rivalry up even after 1 team has won the "championship," by obstruction, making vows & pledges to outside players & otherwise adhering to their own agenda, to the detriment of the nation & its people! This is why we must be more proactive in our local, state & federal governments! We also have to quit voting for men w/extreme/religious ideas, who end up serving on the Science & Technology Committee! Involvement 21st Century Style!!

    November 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  5. USN Ret.

    I was station just out side of D.C. Each day the local news stations would have a 5 to 10 min. segment on what was happening on capital hill. We were informed on what bills were being debated on and which one was passed. Now I live in what most of you call fly over country and our local news cast give us no information as to what congress is up to unless it affects their area. CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, MSNCB and the rest don't care if you know. So for all of us lost sheep ignorance is bliss.

    November 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply

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