By Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON _ An overwhelming majority of Americans think their federal government is gridlocked by partisan infighting and turf battles and can’t accomplish anything, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll.
Yet the anger and frustration with Washington aren’t directed solely at either party and don’t automatically add up to a tidal wave against the governing Democrats in this year’s elections for control of Congress, the poll suggested.
In fact, Americans tilt slightly against Republicans as to which party they blame more. They also give a 10-point edge to Democrats when they’re asked which party they’d vote for if the congressional elections were today.
“Overall, the poll suggests a level of disgust with politics as usual,” said Clifford Young, a senior vice president with Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the survey. “Americans are basically angry at incumbents and Washington. This isn’t necessarily directed at any one party. I have my doubts about whether the Democrats will be obliterated. Yes, they’ll lose seats, but there is a general backlash against all incumbents.”
Four out of five Americans, 80 percent, said that Washington couldn’t accomplish anything because of fighting between the political parties and branches of the government, the poll found. Only 17 percent disagreed.
The sentiment is deeply held: Fifty-one percent strongly agree that gridlock renders the government impotent. It’s also felt across the political spectrum, with 81 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of independents agreeing that the government is bogged down.
Underscoring the public disgust: The ranks of people who think the country is on the right track hit the lowest level since President Barack Obama took office last year _ only 34 percent. Almost twice as many _ 60 percent _ said it was on the wrong track.
The country’s mood improved at first under Obama, with those saying that the country was headed in the right direction rising from 42 percent shortly after he took office to a high of 55 percent in early May. It’s dropped ever since, rooted in anxiety about recession and unemployment, and perhaps disgust with Washington.
The poll measured sentiment at a time when Washington appears unable to solve major problems, such as overhauling health care and taming the national debt, or even routine tasks, such as extending unemployment benefits. A single lawmaker, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., has blocked a $10 billion bill that’s needed to extend those benefits, as well as highway projects and Medicare payments to doctors.
As Democrats spotlight Bunning’s move in order to turn opinion against Republicans, Americans remain divided over which party to blame. The poll found 33 percent blaming Republicans for a broken Washington and 27 percent blaming Democrats, with 2 percent blaming both parties, 5 percent unsure and 17 percent saying that Washington isn’t broken at all.
While partisans tended to blame the other party, independents split almost evenly, with 18 percent blaming Democrats and 16 percent blaming Republicans. The biggest bloc of independents, 38 percent, agreed that Washington is broken but neither party is to blame.
Looking ahead to November’s elections, 50 percent said they’d vote for Democratic candidates if the election were today, while 40 percent said they’d vote for Republicans.
Obama’s approval rating was 53 percent, up 3 points from the end of January. The poll was taken Friday through Sunday, just after the president hosted his daylong bipartisan conference on health care.
“The conventional wisdom is that Democrats are totally lost and the Republicans are gaining ground,” Young said. “The situation is a little more complex than that.”
On the top national issue now in the news, 47 percent of Americans said they opposed the health care proposals that Obama and Congress were discussing, while 41 percent supported them.
Of “no” voters, 54 percent said they opposed the proposals because they went “too far,” while 37 percent said they opposed them because they “don’t go far enough.”
Of “yes” voters, 78 percent said they thought that the proposals went far enough to fix health care, while 12 percent said they supported them because they didn’t want health care overhauled and they thought that the proposals went so far that Congress would never pass them.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.99 percentage points.