When an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found earlier this year that a plurality of Republican voters believe GOP lawmakers compromise too much with President Obama, it seemed hard to believe. Congressional Republicans have refused to work with the Democratic White House on anything, literally since Day One. Maybe respondents didn’t understand the question?
No, that’s not it. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted yesterday that rank-and-file Republicans just want as much confrontation as humanly possible. The latest report from the Pew Research Center makes this clear:
The survey finds deep differences in how Republicans and Democrats want President Obama and GOP leaders to deal with issues. Fully 75% of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15% say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7% say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.Fewer Democrats (49%) want Obama to challenge Republicans more often; 33% say he is handling this about right while 11% want him to go along with GOP leaders more often.
That’s quite a bit of asymmetry. In the overall population, the number of Americans who want GOP lawmakers to go along more with the White House is roughly identical to the number of Americans who want Republicans to “challenge” the president more often.
But among GOP voters, the results are lopsided. This actually explains a lot.
We like to think there’s a natural resistance to gridlock – the public doesn’t like it when policymakers can’t agree on anything, and nothing gets done because institutions are paralyzed by partisan and ideological differences.
But results like these paint a very different picture. Republicans don’t just have an aversion to bipartisan cooperation, they also look at six years of near-total GOP opposition to everything the president proposes – including instances in which Obama actually agreed with the Republican line – and conclude, “It’s not good enough. We want even more partisan confrontations.”
This is broadly consistent with Pew findings from a year ago, which showed that liberals expect and support compromise, but conservatives are hostile to the very idea of compromise.
Christopher Ingraham noted at the time, “A party that is ideologically predisposed against compromise is going to have a very hard time governing, particularly within a divided government.”
It’s an important detail for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the reminder about who has Republican officials’ ear. It’s tempting to think elected GOP officials would see polls showing broad support for cooperation and compromise, and then adopt a constructive posture to align themselves with the American mainstream. Clearly, however, the practical realities show otherwise – Republican policymakers are listening to Republican voters, and no one else.