The public says it prefers compromise, but compromisers often face anger from their own party

July 07, 2021, 5:56 PM UTC

Congress nearly always fares poorly in the eyes of the American public – no matter which party is in charge. Only in cases of national crises, like the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks does it seem that Congressional approval rises. In recent Economist/YouGov polls, congressional approval rarely rises above 20% and a majority of Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job.

Sometimes, the level of disapproval is bipartisan, but not this week. With Democrats narrowly in control of both Houses, Republican approval of Congress drops to single digits (7%), while Democrats are as likely to disapprove (33%) as approve (35%).

Americans claim they prefer compromise from their representatives — but that’s assuming the compromise can help get things accomplished. Democrats and Independents say they overwhelmingly favor compromise over sticking to principles, while a majority of Republicans reject it (though 44% of Republicans support compromising in principle).

Those Republicans who call themselves “very conservative” are the ones who  prioritize sticking to their principles (67%) over compromising to get things done (33%) — and by a more than two to one margin. Democrats, whether they think of themselves as liberals (85%) or moderates (72%), claim to overwhelmingly support compromises to get things done. 

But individual members of the current Congress who attempt to compromise (and cross party lines to do it) aren’t necessarily rewarded for it by today’s partisan public. Republican Senators Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) receive more positive ratings from Democrats than from Republicans, while Democrats Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) perform better with Republicans than with Democrats.   

In some cases — like Romney’s — Republicans who reject compromising are most more likely than those who don’t to think negatively about him (68% of those who want Congresspeople to stick to their principles vs 61% of Republicans overall have an unfavorable view). But in many cases, opinion about compromise does not translate into how partisans rate these Congressmen and Congresswomen. 

Lack of compromise may affect how people view Congressional accomplishments (or lack of them). Just one in nine (11%) think Congress is getting more done than usual, while three times that number think it is getting less than usual accomplished (33%). Democrats (24%) are more positive than Republicans (4%) or Independents (8%) on Congress being more productive than usual. 

Congress and Infrastructure Bill
 

In general, Democrats in both the House and the Senate are seen more positively than Republicans in both chambers, but that’s only because Democrats look more favorably on their own party’s representatives than Republicans view theirs. More than eight in ten Democrats have favorable opinions of Democrats in the House of Representatives (87%) and in the Senate (83%).  

A still positive but smaller percentage of Republicans (66%) have a favorable opinion of GOP Representatives, and 70% are favorable toward Republican Senators. As for Independents, unfavorable ratings for all four groups of Congressional members outweigh favorable ones by about two to one in every case. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll  

Related: Republicans like Senator Joe Manchin more than Democrats do 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between June 26 - 29, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.1% for the overall sample.  

Image: Getty