Poll: Voters See A Great Divide

image AP

More than at any time since CBS News began asking the question 25 years ago, Americans are convinced that there are important differences between the two major parties. But as the summer convention season gets under way, both parties still have work to do to in convincing voters that they have a vision of where they would take the country over the next four years.

Today, 70% of Americans see important differences between the parties. That is an increase from 1995 following the GOP takeover of Congress, a dramatic difference from the Presidential election year of 1992 when 52% saw differences, and quite unlike the political environment of 1980, when – even after a hotly-contested election campaign - Americans were equivocal about whether there were differences at all.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this feeling is even stronger among all registered voters, 75% of whom see important differences. Even 63% of independents see differences between the parties, though they don't currently claim either one as their own. And about half of voters who did not cast a ballot in 2000 say that they see differences between the parties today.

VIEWS OF THE PARTIES

As the Democrats head to Boston, they will need to define and describe the party's agenda for the next four years. Only 36% of voters believe the party has a clear plan for the country. After the 2002 mid-term elections, in which they lost control of the Senate, the Democrats were also not seen as having a clear plan.

DO DEMOCRATS HAVE A CLEAR PLAN FOR THE COUNTRY?
(Registered voters)


Now:
Yes
36%
No
51%

11/02:
Yes
30%
No
55%

The Republicans, meanwhile, have a slight edge over the Democrats in convincing voters that they have a coherent vision, but they have lost some ground since 2002, and today less than half of voters believe the GOP has a clear plan.

DO REPUBLICANS HAVE A CLEAR PLAN FOR THE COUNTRY?
(Registered voters)


Now:
Yes
43%
No
48%

11/02:
Yes
47%
No
40%

54% of voters have an overall favorable opinion of the Democratic party. This rating is mostly unchanged from last fall and is typical for Democrats in the summer of recent election years.

OPINION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY (Registered voters)

Now:
Favorable
54%
Unfavorable
40%

10/02:
Favorable
53%
Unfavorable
39%

7/00:
Favorable
56%
Unfavorable
39%

The GOP's ratings are more closely divided, with 49% holding a positive view and 47% a negative one. Positive evaluation of the Republicans was slightly higher in 2000 and in 2002, but at about the same level as in the summer of 1992.

OPINION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
(Registered voters)


Now:
Favorable
49%
Unfavorable
47%

10/02:
Favorable
54%
Unfavorable
38%

7/00:
Favorable
54%
Unfavorable
41%

7/92:
Favorable
46%
Unfavorable
47%

Opinion of the parties is polarized now, as it has been before. Today, less than one in five Democrat voters holds a favorable view of the GOP, and vice-versa.

Voters give Democrats an edge in "pocketbook" concerns: they are seen as better able to create jobs and help people achieve the American Dream. Meanwhile, national security remains the GOP's long suit; the Republicans are seen as better able to deal with terrorism.

Despite recent Medicare prescription drug benefits, enacted under a GOP Congress and President, Democrats enjoy a large edge in this area. And as both camps try to define themselves as sharing the country's values, neither has gained an edge in that battle.

The Republicans' security credibility on fighting terrorism does not carry over when it comes to Iraq, where neither party has a clear edge. 45% say the Democratic Party would be better, 43% say the Republicans would.

THE SWING VOTE? INDEPENDENT VOTERS

As in most Presidential election years, the parties try to use their conventions to lure independent voters into their camp. That may be especially necessary this year, as most partisans have already sided with their party's nominee and most voters have already made up their minds. (In this poll, 78% of Bush's backers say they won't change their preference, as do 80% of Kerry's supporters.)


The Democratic Party has a slight edge over the GOP in its perception among independents. 51% of independent voters hold a positive view of the Democrats, 46% think favorably of the GOP. 44% of Independents have negative feelings of the Republicans; 37% of the Democrats.

PARTY VIEWS AMONG INDEPENDENTS
(Registered voters)


Democratic Party:
Favorable
51%
Unfavorable
37%

Republican Party:
Favorable
46%
Unfavorable
44%

On some specific issues, Independents' views of the parties look very much like the nation's voters as a whole: they give an edge to the Democrats on economic issues and strongly see it as the party that cares about them. They favor the Republicans when it comes to dealing with terrorism.

VIEWS OF GOVERNMENT

The Republican party has been traditionally skeptical about the workings of the Federal government, while Democrats have often championed its abilities – two broad, competing ideologies that will likely be on display during the conventions.

But many Americans take a more practical view of government, based on which party controls the White House and Congress. With Republicans in charge of both the executive and the legislature, most Republicans – 59% - believe that, in general, the Federal government can be trusted to do what is right most of the time. Democrats, meanwhile, say they are generally distrustful of the government, as are Independents -- and 59% of all Americans.

And on at least one point, members of all three parties have agreed for decades: a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents believe the government is generally run for the benefit of a few large interests, instead of for the benefit of all the people. Overall, 64% of all Americans believe this.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 955 adults interviewed by telephone July 11-15, 2004. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Error for subgroups may be higher.
  • Ellen Crean

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