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COMMENTARY

Survey: Voters liked choice of Obama vs. Romney, or did they?

November 15, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Mitt Romney and President Obama as seen during the first presidential debate. Voters expressed some ambivalence about the election in a Pew survey.
Mitt Romney and President Obama as seen during the first presidential debate.… (David Goldman/Eric Gay…)

It’s not just the politicians in Washington who seem to believe that compromise means the other guy has to back down first.

While an overwhelming majority of Americans want President Obama and Republicans in Congress to work together to get things done, many of the party faithful on both sides don’t want their elected leaders to work with the opposition.

That’s one of the findings of a post-election survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Less than half (46%) of Republicans surveyed want GOP lawmakers to work with Obama to get things done, while fully half would prefer them to stand up to Obama, even if less is accomplished. Democrats sounded a slightly more magnanimous note — with 54% saying the president should try to work with Republicans and 42% saying he should not.

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The Pew survey found the electorate as a whole tilts toward bipartisanship, with political independents tipping the balance, with their overwhelming support of the two sides working together. (The survey found that 64% of independents want GOP lawmakers to work with Obama. Turning the question around — with the onus on Obama to work with Republicans — and the level of support among independents went to 74%. Independents as a whole lean conservative — explaining why more of them would express a need for compromise on Obama’s side.)

The findings suggest the same sort of fissures that could make for a difficult road for the president and Congress. While both sides say they want to compromise, they also promise not to give in on core principles.  That dichotomy could be on display even before Obama’s second term begins. In negotiations to avoid falling off the “fiscal cliff” — the combination of massive spending cuts and tax increases due to kick in Jan. 1 — Obama has said he will insist on a higher tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. GOP leaders have said they either want no tax increase or one that comes only from closing loopholes.  

Other responses to the survey suggested considerable ambivalence among Americans about the 2012 race.

Some 70% of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the candidates from which they chose. And 87% said they learned enough about the contenders to make an informed choice. Those were both high marks for the seven presidential contests (starting in 1988) in which Pew asked those questions.

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If Americans felt well informed, they didn’t credit one messenger: the press. The Fourth Estate got an average grade of C- from poll respondents for the job it did covering the election. The candidates fared only slightly better — Romney getting a C and Obama a C+.

Hard to explain why 70% of Americans could simultaneously say they were satisfied with the candidates and then give them middling grades. Such is the fickle nature of voters, polls, or maybe both.

Americans did not cut themselves any slack in the survey. Asked to grade the voters in campaign 2012, the average score came out to a C+.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

MORE COMMENTARY FROM JAMES RAINEY:

Petraeus cultivated media and they treated him gently

Democratic Party’s ‘new majority’ far from a sure thing

Has America gone from center-right to center libertarian?

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