Waxing and Waning Support for Some Party-Platform Positions

NEW YORK, N.Y. – A new Harris Poll revisits public sentiment towards 15 issues which typically divide along party lines, with some notable changes since these same issues were gauged in 2011. The largest majorities of Americans support cutting government spending (84%), increased educational spending (82%), no tax increases (82%), stricter environmental protection (77%), and embryonic stem-cell research (76%).  

Many positions have shifted notably in the four years since these questions were last asked; others are notable for their lack of movement. Support for no tax increases has grown eight percentage points (from 74% to 82%) and support for same-sex marriage has grown by seven (51%-58%), while support has declined for deporting more illegal aliens (76%-68%), off-shore drilling (67%-58%) and cutting defense spending (54%-43%).

When asked which two of these issues would be most important to them when voting for a candidate, Americans are most likely to point to cutting government spending (28%, down 10 points from 2011) and no tax increases (28%, up 2 points). These are followed by The Affordable Care Act (20%, down 6 points), increased educational spending (18%, down 1 point), deporting more illegal aliens (16%, up 1 point), stricter gun control (16%, up 11 points), less government regulation (14%, up 1 point), same-sex marriage (12%, up 4 points) and stricter environmental protection (11%, up 3 points).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,220 adults surveyed online between June 17 and 22, 2015. No polling is conducted in a vacuum free of outside influence. In this case, it’s important to note that these questions were fielded in the wake of June 17’s Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina and prior to the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage.

In comparing Republicans’ and Democrats’ attitudes toward these issues, the widest differences (i.e. the greatest polarization) exist on:

  • The Affordable Care Act (supported by 78% of Democrats but only 15% of Republicans),
  • Same sex marriage (supported by 74% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans),
  • Stricter gun control (supported by 80% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans),
  • Abortion rights (supported by 82% of Democrats and 44% of republicans), and
  • Off-shore drilling (supported by 78% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats).

What issues are most important to Republicans?

The strongest majorities of Republicans support cutting government spending (93%), no tax increases (90%), and prayer in school (87%). When asked which two issues would be most important when deciding whom to vote for, the top selections among Republicans are cutting government spending (38%), no tax increases (32%), less government regulation (22%), The Affordable Care Act (19%) and deporting more illegal aliens (19%).

What issues are most important to Democrats?

The strongest majorities of Democrats support increased educational spending (94%), stricter environmental protection (91%), and embryonic stem cell research (85%). When asked which two issues would be most important when deciding whom to vote for, Democrats’ top selections are increased educational spending (27%), no tax increases (24%), stricter gun control (24%) and The Affordable Care Act (23%).

What “platform” issues show crossover party support?

The poll reveals several issues where the traditional conservative positions appeal to most Democrats, along with multiple traditionally liberal positions earning majority support among Republicans:

  • Majorities of Democrats support the conservative positions of cutting government spending (73%), no tax increases (72%), less government regulation (57%), and reducing immigration (56%).
  • Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans support the traditionally liberal positions of increasing educational spending (73%), embryonic stem-cell research (63%) and stricter environmental protection (58%).

Where do Independents stand?

On nine of the issues tested, majorities of Independents favor the Conservative position. Most auspiciously, 89% favor cutting government spending, 83% support no tax increases, 76% support less government regulations and 75% support deporting more illegal aliens.

Majorities of Independents favor the more liberal positions on six of the issues tested, with standouts including support for embryonic stem-cell research (81%), increased educational spending (79%) and stricter environmental protection (76%).

Changes within – and outside of – the parties

Both within and outside of parties, attitudes do shift over time.

  • Looking at Republicans, support for off-shore drilling has decreased from 87% in 2011 to 78% today, while support for embryonic stem-cell research has grown from 56% to 63%. Support for same-sex marriage, while still a minority position among Republicans, has grown from 24% to 32%
  • Democrats’ support for no tax increases (63% vs. 72%) has increased, while diminishing support can be seen for cutting defense spending (70% vs. 59%), deporting more illegal immigrants (62% vs. 51%) and off-shore drilling (52% vs. 40%).
  • Independents, meanwhile, are more likely than in 2011 to support no tax increases (73% in 2011 vs. 83% today) and less government regulation (70% vs. 76%) but less likely to support off-shore drilling (68% vs. 61%) and considerably less likely to support cuts to defense spending (61% vs. 41%).

 

TABLE 1a

SUPPORT OR OPPOSE POLITICAL POSITIONS

“Please indicate how strongly you support or oppose the issues listed below.”

Base: All adults

 

Support (NET)

Strongly support

Somewhat support

Oppose (NET)

Somewhat oppose

Strongly oppose

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cutting government spending

84

48

36

16

11

4

Increased educational spending

82

46

36

18

11

7

No tax increases

82

49

33

18

12

6

Stricter environmental protection

77

36

41

23

15

9

Embryonic stem-cell research

76

39

37

24

14

10

Less government regulation

71

32

39

29

21

7

Reducing immigration

68

38

31

32

22

10

Deporting more illegal aliens

68

41

27

32

21

12

Prayer in school

66

40

26

34

14

20

Abortion rights

66

37

29

34

15

19

Stricter gun control

59

38

22

41

17

24

Same-sex marriage

58

36

22

42

16

26

Off-shore drilling

58

19

39

42

27

15

The Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”)

47

22

25

53

17

35

Cutting defense spending

43

17

26

57

33

24

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 1b

SUPPORT OR OPPOSE POLITICAL POSITIONS

“Please indicate how strongly you support or oppose the issues listed below.”

Base: All adults

 

Support (NET)

Oppose (NET)

2011

2015

2011

2015

%

%

%

%

Cutting government spending

87

84

13

16

Increased educational spending

81

82

19

18

No tax increases

74

82

26

18

Stricter environmental protection

75

77

25

23

Embryonic stem-cell research

74

76

26

24

Less government regulation

71

71

29

29

Reducing immigration

72

68

28

32

Deporting more illegal aliens

76

68

24

32

Prayer in school

69

66

31

34

Abortion rights

64

66

36

34

Stricter gun control

56

59

44

41

Same-sex marriage

51

58

49

42

Off-shore drilling

67

58

33

42

*The Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”)

47

47

53

53

Cutting defense spending

54

43

46

57

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

*“The Affordable Care Act (i.e., ‘Obamacare’)” identified as “The recent Healthcare Reform Bill” in 2011

 

 

TABLE 1c

SUPPORT POLITICAL POSITIONS – BY PARTY

Base: All adults

 

Total

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

 

2011

2015

2011

2015

2011

2015

2011

2015

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cutting government spending

87

84

95

93

76

73

92

89

Increased educational spending

81

82

71

73

91

94

80

79

No tax increases

74

82

88

90

63

72

73

83

Stricter environmental protection

75

77

54

58

90

91

77

76

Embryonic stem-cell research

74

76

56

63

85

85

79

81

Less government regulation

71

71

89

84

57

57

70

76

Deporting more illegal aliens

76

68

90

84

62

51

80

75

Reducing immigration

72

68

82

83

60

56

76

70

Prayer in school

69

66

86

87

57

53

66

62

Abortion rights

64

66

45

44

79

82

65

70

Stricter gun control

56

59

34

39

74

80

54

57

Off-shore drilling

67

58

87

78

52

40

68

61

Same-sex marriage

51

58

24

32

66

74

60

63

*The Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”)

47

47

16

15

78

78

45

44

Cutting defense spending

54

43

30

24

70

59

61

41

*“The Affordable Care Act (i.e., ‘Obamacare’)” identified as “The recent Healthcare Reform Bill” in 2011

 

TABLE 1d

OPPOSE POLITICAL POSITIONS – BY PARTY

Base: All adults

 

Total

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

 

2011

2015

2011

2015

2011

2015

2011

2015

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Cutting defense spending

46

57

70

76

30

41

39

59

*The Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”)

53

53

84

85

22

22

55

56

Same-sex marriage

49

42

76

68

34

26

40

37

Off-shore drilling

33

42

13

22

48

60

32

39

Stricter gun control

44

41

66

61

26

20

46

43

Abortion rights

36

34

55

56

21

18

35

30

Prayer in school

31

34

14

13

43

47

34

38

Reducing immigration

28

32

18

17

40

44

24

30

Deporting more illegal aliens

24

32

10

16

38

49

20

25

Less government regulation

29

29

11

16

43

43

30

24

Embryonic stem-cell research

26

24

44

37

15

15

21

19

Stricter environmental protection

25

23

46

42

10

9

23

24

No tax increases

26

18

12

10

37

28

27

17

Increased educational spending

19

18

29

27

9

6

20

21

Cutting government spending

13

16

5

7

24

27

8

11

*“The Affordable Care Act (i.e., ‘Obamacare’)” identified as “The recent Healthcare Reform Bill” in 2011

 

 TABLE 2

VOTING ISSUES

“Now while all may be important issues, please choose the two issues that are most important to you when voting for a candidate.”

Base: All adults

 

2011 Total

2015 Total

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

%

%

%

%

%

Cutting government spending

38

28

38

17

33

No tax increases

26

28

32

24

26

The Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”)

26

20

19

23

19

Increased educational spending

19

18

12

27

13

Deporting more illegal aliens

15

16

19

10

18

Stricter gun control

5

16

7

24

14

Less government regulation

13

14

22

5

17

Same-sex marriage

8

12

10

14

11

Stricter environmental protection

8

11

5

15

13

Abortion rights

9

9

9

11

9

Reducing immigration

8

7

8

5

9

Cutting defense spending

9

6

5

9

5

Prayer in school

6

6

7

6

4

Embryonic stem-cell research

4

5

5

6

3

Off-shore drilling

3

2

2

2

3

Note: Up to two responses allowed

*“The Affordable Care Act (i.e., ‘Obamacare’)” identified as “The recent Healthcare Reform Bill” in 2011


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between May 20 and 26, 2015 among 2,225 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #38, July 2, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll