With a new divided government about to take charge in Washington, Americans agree that the nation is more divided — and not on much else
In a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, Republicans voters worry that newly empowered congressional Democrats will go too far in investigating Trump and his administration. Democrats worry they won’t go far enough. Republicans want Congress to start the year by reducing illegal immigration and funding Trump’s border wall. Democrats want Congress to begin by addressing health care.
“It’s the framework for gridlock,” says David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, with “passionate partisans disagreeing on virtually every issue.”
Just about everybody does agree on this: By an overwhelming 78 percent-11 percent, those surveyed say the country has become more divided since Trump took office in January 2017, not more united.
“The country is going through some trying times,” says Thomas Maslany, 72, a retired engineer from Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania, who was among those polled. He supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 but doesn’t vote a straight Democratic ticket. When it comes to pursuing the president, “My heart says you can’t go far enough. My brain says no, that wouldn’t be good.”
He adds, “Congress needs both an investigative and a policy agenda for next year, not one or the other.”
Maslany feels the same pull between priorities that face many members of the 116th Congress, set to be inaugurated next month with a new Democratic majority in the House, a bolstered Republican margin in the Senate, and a class of freshmen who don’t necessarily feel obliged to abide by the traditional ways of doing things.
Voters say they want Washington to focus first on their lives – on fixing health care, securing borders, improving infrastructure – rather than on Trump’s behavior. But there is no bipartisan consensus about just what policies to pursue, and the legal turmoil that is roiling the president threatens to disrupt just about everything else.
For starters, will Trump complete the final two years of his first term?
Nearly all Republicans, 93 percent-3 percent, say he will. Most Democrats, 52 percent-39 percent, predict he won’t. Overall, Americans by 66 percent-27 percent think Trump will stay on the job.
The nationwide poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken by landline and cell phone from Dec. 11-16, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Build the wall?
On a list of six major issues, Republicans echo Trump. Six in 10 GOP voters identify their top priority as illegal immigration, including fulfilling the president’s campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican border. That’s more support than the other five issues combined.
“There are some dangerous people out there,” Linda Overby, 75, a retired secretary from Warrenton, North Carolina, and a Trump supporter said in a follow-up phone interview. “I am concerned about the safety of the country. People talk about the suffering that these people undergo, but we suffer when they come here and try to kill us.”
More: No, immigrants don’t commit more crimes than US-born people
However, only 5 percent of Democrats agree that immigration should be the first issue for the new Congress.
Among Democrats, the top issue by far is expanding access to health care and reducing health care costs, cited by 37 percent. That’s also the top concern for independents, chosen by 35 percent. But only 17 percent of Republicans rank health care as the first issue Congress should tackle.
Catherine O’Connor, 63, an artist and political independent from Lockport, New York, has watched with alarm as the Affordable Care Act has been “eroded and eroded and eroded,” including the decision by a federal judge in Texas last week, now being appealed, that the entire law was unconstitutional. Congress needs to be “very disciplined” in protecting Obamacare, she says.
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For Robert Cody, 29, a musician from Los Angeles, taking steps to counter climate change should be at the top of Congress’ agenda. “My most important concern is that the planet is going to be habitable in 50 years,” he says. Climate change is “pretty irrefutable” but “it seems like we are living in a vast denial.”
While 18 percent of Democrats like Cody cite climate change as the top issue, though, a scant 1 percent of Republicans agree.
Since the midterm elections in November gave Democrats control of the House, Trump and others have mentioned an infrastructure initiative as a measure that could command bipartisan support. That may turn out to be true, but it emerges as secondary to voters, cited by 10 percent of Democrats and 9 percent of Republicans.
More: Trump, buoyed by the campaign, looks to a post-midterm presidency
There is no bipartisan accord on the question of investigating Trump and his administration. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are more enthusiastic than Republicans about that prospect. They rank it as second on the agenda; Republicans put it dead last. Nearly eight in 10 Republicans said they were concerned that congressional Democrats will go too far in investigating Trump.
“I don’t think that it is a fair thing for them to do that in the first place,” said Overby, the retired secretary from North Carolina. “They are angry because they didn’t win, and this is their way of getting back.”
That said, Democrats by more than 2-1, 56 percent-24 percent, say they are concerned that congressional Democrats won’t go far enough. “I think it’s not possible to go too far,” said Cody, the musician from Los Angeles.
The next year will set the stage for the election year that follows. Trump announced his re-election campaign on the day he was inaugurated. Now a record number of Democratic hopefuls are testing the waters to challenge him, calculating that he will be vulnerable.
One danger sign: Qualms about the economy are growing. In the poll, 48 percent say the nation is in an economic recovery, down 10 points from the USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll taken in October. In the new survey, voters are inclined to blame the president if the country falls into a recession. Forty-two percent would hold him and his policies responsible, double the 21 percent who would blame the regular business cycle.
Already, most voters, 56 percent-39 percent, predict Trump will lose his bid for a second term in 2020. Forty-two percent say he will “definitely” lose; 21 percent say he will “definitely” win.
Republicans are more optimistic about the president’s prospects than others; 51 percent say he will definitely win a second term. “I trust the president,” Dwayne Pyle, 33, a Republican from Redding, California, declared. “I stand by the president.”
More: Paleologos on the Poll: Republicans should look to economy – and be worried about 2020
That said, Democrats are even more confident in their prediction that Trump will definitely lose; 66 percent call that a sure thing.
Indeed, that’s why Arlanna Spencer, 43, a stay-at-home mother and a Democrat from Flagler Beach, Florida, doesn’t want the president to be impeached. “I think that would be more divisive,” she said. “I think he has to lose in an election. It has to be a definitive vote by the American people.”
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