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Americans are sick of lawmakers bickering. They don't have much hope that will change

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., early Dec. 14, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., early Dec. 14, 2022.

Three-quarters of Americans say they want members of Congress to compromise with the other side, the highest in at least a decade, but most have no confidence they will, the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

Seventy-four percent said Congress should compromise. But Americans have gotten more pessimistic that their leaders will try to reach across the aisle. The 58% who said they have no confidence Congress will do so is more than double the level found in 2008, when just 23% said so.


Many Americans say they are simply tired of the bickering, name-calling and faux outrage that have become all-too-common among members on either side of the aisle in Congress.

"You can't have two people, one on one side of the hallway and one on the other talking about each other — you're not going to get anything done," said poll respondent Jeff Daye, 54, of California, Md., who identified as a Republican. "They remind me of a bunch of children."

Stacey Boushelle, a 50-year-old independent and former Republican from Defiance, Mo., said people can't become closed off if they disagree.

"You have to understand where everybody is coming from," said Boushelle, who said she considered herself a Republican and voted that way up until the 2016 election, but hasn't since former President Trump ran. "You are a product of your environment. You have to meet them where they are. Otherwise, you just alienate them, and it's a hard division, as opposed to trying to reach some and trying to bring them back."

Biden's standing improves some, but Democrats continue to look elsewhere

The survey also found that President Biden's approval rating continues to slump at 43%, but on the heels of recent legislative wins and a better-than-expected finish for Democrats in the midterms, the percentage disapproving of the job he's doing has declined.

"I actually think he's doing a great job," Boushelle said. "There's nothing we can do about his hair or his quickness, but when you're older, we make better decisions, more informed decisions."

Looking to 2024, a majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they would prefer someone other than Biden to be the party's nominee. Just 35% said they wanted it to be Biden, but there isn't a clamoring for anyone else in particular to run either.

The other two named candidates polled saw less than half of that support, with 17% saying they preferred the Democratic nominee to be Vice President Harris and 16% saying Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary. More than a quarter said they are looking for "someone else."

Trump holds up in a multi-candidate primary

While a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would rather someone other than Trump be the GOP nominee, in a multi-candidate field, he still would be the preferred candidate by a 45%-to-33% margin over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Just 8% said they would rather former Vice President Pence be the nominee.

A Wall Street Journal poll out Wednesdayshowed Republican primary voters would prefer DeSantis over Trump if it were just the two of them running.

What people think Congress' priorities should be

Overall, respondents said they want Congress to focus on inflation, preserving democracy and immigration.

To be expected, the parties see things quite differently — Republicans overwhelmingly want Congress to focus on inflation (41%), followed by immigration (23%) and then preserving democracy (11%).

Preserving democracy was top of the list for Democrats (29%), followed by inflation (20%) and climate change (17%).

Of course, when Republicans and Democrats say they want preserving democracy to be a priority, they don't always mean the same thing. Some Republicans are focused on baseless claims of voter fraud pushed by the former president.

Democrats are more focused on the illegitimate efforts to try and overturn the presidential election in 2020 — and current and potential future attempts to continue to sew doubts about U.S. elections.


Serious threat to democracy

Eighty-three percent — and there were similar numbers across the political spectrum — believed that there is a serious threat to democracy. That's the highest recorded in the poll, even after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Respondents were split on which party is a bigger threat, though — 49% said Republicans, 45% said Democrats.

Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus

To see just how differently people in both parties view things — look at immigration and climate change.

Nearly a quarter of Republicans think immigration should be a top priority for Congress, but only 1% of Democrats think it should be.

On climate change, more than 1 in 6 Democrats think it should be Congress' top priority, but only 1% of Republicans do.

Congress gets some points for trying

When it comes what this Congress has been able to get done, 24% said they accomplished more than recent Congresses.

While that may not seem very high, it's actually the highest percentage to say so since 1998.

The positive views are — not surprisingly — driven by Democrats, 48% of whom said they think this Congress has accomplished more than recent Congresses. And it has been quite productive with a string of legislative victories for President Biden and his party, despite a 50-50 Senate.

Forty-percent said they accomplished less and 33% said about the same.

People don't have a very positive view of either party

Neither the Republican nor Democratic parties got very good grades from respondents.

Both parties are viewed almost identically and are upside down in their favorability ratings:

Republicans: 41% favorable, 47% unfavorable
Democrats: 42% favorable, 47% unfavorable

White evangelical Christians, far and away, viewed the GOP most favorably of the demographic subgroups. Members of the Silent/Greatest generation (those between 77 and 94 years old), whites without college degrees and those who live in small towns and rural areas were among the most likely to have more positive views of the Republican Party.

When it came to Democrats, white women with college degrees, college graduates in general, people who live in big cities and the Northeast, as well as Baby Boomers were among the most likely to say they had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party.

Alarmingly for Democrats, only 41% of GenZ/Millennials had a favorable opinion of the party despite being the generation that voted for Democrats in the midterms by the widest margin. Almost 1-in-5 GenZ/Millennials said they were unsure.

In fact, statistically the same percentage of GenZ/Millennials (42%) had a favorable view of the Republican Party, and 1-in-5 were unsure. That level of dissatisfaction and disconnection from either party could mean this is a generation up for grabs, especially as it gets older.

Not a good time to buy

The economy is at an unstable time, and 7-in-10 said they don't think now is a good time to purchase a big-ticket item like a car or household appliance.

That included solid majorities of respondents in each generation, but the older the respondent, the more likely to say it was not a good time to buy.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.