How Americans feel about the prospect of a divided Congress

Taylor OrthSenior Survey Data Journalist
November 12, 2022, 12:26 AM GMT+0

A poll conducted in the three days following Election Day for the 2022 general election finds that Americans are split on whether the prospect of a Congress divided between the parties would be a good or bad thing. However, more now anticipate this will be the eventual outcome than did in the weeks leading up to the election. Expectations have shifted because of an unexpectedly strong showing by Democratic candidates: More Americans say that Democrats exceeded their expectations in terms of seats gained than say the same about Republicans.

At the same time, Republicans' disappointing election performance has not caused everyone in the party to reconsider its approach to elections. Republicans are just as likely as Democrats to say their party should continue with a similar approach in 2024 as it took in 2022. However, many Republicans are looking to shake up the top of their presidential ticket: More Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents now say they prefer Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the party's 2024 presidential nominee than say they prefer a return of their 2020 nominee — former President Donald Trump, who publicly attacked DeSantis two days after Election Day.

Democrats exceed expectations

The widely-anticipated "red wave" seems to have not materialized to the extent many Americans were expecting. An Economist/YouGov poll that concluded fielding the day before the election found that Americans were more likely to say that Republicans would win control of the Senate than to say Democrats would. While the outcome is still up in the air, half of Americans with an opinion now say that Democrats won more seats than they expected in the 2022 congressional elections; a similar share say Republicans lost more than expected. Americans are more than three times as likely to say Republicans won fewer seats than they expected than to say they won more than expected. Republicans are especially likely to say Democrats won more seats than they expected. 

The possibility of a divided Congress

There is a reasonable chance that the next Congress will be a divided one – with one party controlling the House and the other party, the Senate. This is not most Americans' preference: Among those with an opinion, slightly more say they prefer Congress to be controlled by a single party rather than divided. Independents are far less likely than Democrats and Republicans to say they prefer unified congressional control.

Americans are also split when it comes to the effects of a divided Congress. Roughly as many say having a divided Congress is good because one party can provide checks on the other party as say it is bad because it leads to gridlock. Divided control is more likely to be seen as a bad thing by Democrats than by Republicans. 

A new approach

Have the results of 2022 made Democrats and Republicans rethink their approaches going forward? Looking ahead to the 2024 election, roughly one-third of Democrats and a similar share of Republicans say their party should take a similar approach as they did in 2022, while a slightly larger share in each party say they should take a different approach. Independents are far more likely to think each of the parties should take a different approach than to think they ought to stay the course. 

There is one area in which Republicans are rethinking their approach in 2024: More Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents now say they'd prefer DeSantis (42%) as their 2024 presidential nominee over Trump than say they'd prefer Trump to DeSantis (35%). That's a reversal from nearly a month ago, when — according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll of U.S. adults — just 35% preferred DeSantis and 45% said they preferred Trump. People who say they strongly identify as Republicans are more likely to prefer Trump yet are still nearly evenly divided. Independents who lean toward the Republican Party, on the other hand, are more than twice as likely to prefer DeSantis to Trump.

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on November 9 - 11, 2022, among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Adobe Stock (porqueno)