Polls should find out if bipartisanship is a priority
by John Russonello, Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 10:38:21 AM EST
(Cross-posted from Think it Through)
Some of us have always believed that bipartisanship, like partisanship, can be a means to an end. Sometimes you need one or the other to achieve a goal, such as passing legislation to increase or cut taxes, reform health care, or create jobs. But the Obama era has elevated bipartisanship to an end in itself.
Pundits continually cite polls and anecdotes that suggest Americans would like to see more cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But we have no accurate reading of how important this really is to people, compared to other priorities.
Let’s find out.
I propose that whenever media pollsters ask people the standard question about the priorities for the nation (usually offering a series of issues like crime, the economy, the cost of health care), we include a new item – “making government decisions on a more bipartisan basis,” or “making sure that both Democrats and Republicans agree on a law before it is passed.”
This will help us to determine the proportion of the American public that shares this president’s elevation of bipartisanship to something that has inherent value. How does the drive for bipartisanship stack up compared to creating jobs, fighting terrorism, lowering health care costs, etc.?
For years, pollsters have been asking whether or not the public wants Democrats and Republicans to work together, or if the public thinks the two parties are becoming less willing to cooperate. These questions are like asking: should we have less air pollution? And do you think selfishness is increasing or decreasing in the country? They do not tell us how important any of this is to people.
The president and the timid Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate in the past 14 months have allowed the goal of bipartisanship to derail progress on health care, financial reform, and other issues in the interests of bipartisanship. It would be important for us to know: is bipartisanship that important to Americans? Or do they consider other priorities more urgent?
Let’s start including bipartisanship on our issue series in polls.
John Russonello is a partner with Belden Russonello & Stewart: Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. He writes the blog Think it Through.