Americans who identify with one of the two major political parties, not surprisingly, say their party will do a better job than the other party handling almost any issue we can put in front of them. But this confidence in one’s party varies across issues, and that variance provides insights into today’s political landscape. On some issues, fewer partisans are willing to say that their party does the best job and concomitantly more (perhaps reluctantly) say the other party would do the better job. Other issues generate strong confidence from partisans on both sides of the aisle.
A good example of an issue that has fairly even party confidence is the Affordable Care Act. Here an analysis of our recent survey data finds almost perfect parity. Eighty percent of Republicans (including those who lean Republican) say the GOP can do the best job handling the Affordable Care Act (presumably including many who would say the best way to handle it would be to repeal it), while 14% choose the Democrats. On the other hand, an identical 80% of Democrats say that their party can best handle the ACA (presumably many who say they would strengthen and support it), while 13% choose the Republicans.
One might assume that this type of mirror image would be the same for all issues -- partisans highly likely to choose their party on issue after issue.
But, as noted, that’s not the case.
The most extreme counterexample comes with the issue of equal pay for women. Only 49% of Republicans say their party is best able to handle the issue of equal pay for women, while 36% of Republicans concede that the Democrats are better able to handle it. That’s a net GOP advantage among Republicans of only 13 percentage points (that is, subtracting the 36% who choose the other party from the 49% who choose their own party). On the other hand, a whopping 86% of Democrats say their party is better able to handle the issue of equal pay for women, while only 6% choose the Republicans. That’s an 80-point net Democratic advantage. In other words, Republicans on a relative basis tend to concede this issue to Democrats, while Democrats are overwhelmingly convinced that their party does the best job on it.
In the other direction is the federal budget deficit. Eighty-five percent of Republicans choose their party as best able to handle the deficit, compared with only 7% who choose the Democrats. Democrats are less confident in their party on this issue, although not to the extreme that we found with Republicans for equal pay for women: 64% of Democrats choose their party, while 25% choose the Republican Party. So we have a net confidence advantage for Republicans.
The chart below groups the 13 issues we measured in our Sept. 25-30 poll into those where the Democrats have a clear confidence advantage, those where the Republicans have a clear confidence advantage, and those that are at a rough parity.
Four of the six issues with above average importance to Americans as a whole have a Party Confidence Index in favor of the Republicans. These are the economy, the way the federal government works, dealing with the Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, and the deficit. One of the issues of above average importance has roughly equal Party Confidence -- jobs. One has a clear confidence advantage for the Democrats -- equal pay for women.
In other words, Democrats concede some weight to the Republicans in terms of their ability to handle four key issues in the election, while having above average confidence in just one issue.
Another way of looking at the challenge for the Democrats is to take into account the relative importance of the issues to Democrats themselves. The economy and the way the federal government works are ranked in the top five most important issues among Democrats. A third -- the Islamic militant situation in Iraq and Syria -- is sixth in importance. The Republicans have a confidence advantage on all three of these issues. The only one of the major issues on which the Republicans enjoy an advantage where the Democrats don’t rank as important is the federal budget deficit (fourth from the bottom on their list).
Thus, rank-and-file Democrats across the country are in a position in which they, in essence, admit that their party is not optimally positioned to handle several issues that they (the Democrats) recognize as important, including the economy, the dysfunctional government, and the Islamic militant situation in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, Republicans have an edge or are tied on each issue they consider to be highly important.