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What Voters Expect of a GOP Majority

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In the last week, polling junkies and reporters alike have been delving into a fresh batch of post- Labor Day polls and debating just how big of a majority the Republicans will win in the House of Representatives in November.

Last week my company, the communications and strategy consulting firm FD, fielded several questions on a national survey that pre-supposed Republicans would win majority control of the House. The question we wanted to answer was "How do Americans feel about that prospect?" Like other polls, our polling finds news to cheer the GOP. But, we also find a note of caution about taking a potential takeover in stride.

Namely, in our poll, we find that voters generally believe:

  1. A GOP majority in the House will improve overall economic conditions;
  2. A GOP House would do a better job than past GOP-controlled Congresses (i.e., the party has learned their lesson);
  3. But, voters want a GOP Congress to work with President Obama and Democrats, as opposed to pursuing their own agenda.

Let's take each of these one by one.

1. More voters think economic conditions will improve as a result of a Republican takeover of The House.

Our polling finds that 47% of voters think economic conditions will significantly or somewhat improve as a result of GOP control of the House, while 38% think conditions will significantly or somewhat worsen. Among those "very likely" to vote, 49% say conditions will improve and 39% say conditions will worsen.

2. More voters think a Republican-controlled House will do a better job than past Republican Congresses.

Specifically, our Poll finds that 49% of voters say that a Republican -controlled Congress would do a better job than past Republican Congresses, while 36% say they would do a worse job. Among "very likely" voters, a majority (51%) say that a Republican-controlled Congress would do a better job than previous Republican Congresses, while 37% say they would do a worse job.

Interestingly, this finding clearly signals that the GOP has begun to repair its "brand" in less than two years. Additionally, taken together, the similar double-digits margins on these questions do suggest to me that a double-digit GOP lead on the Generic Ballot that we have seen in other polls might not be far off.

3. That said, voters want a Republican Congress to work with President Obama and Democrats.

When asked which approach they would prefer a hypothetical GOP-controlled Congress take, a whopping 71% of voters say they would prefer them to "compromise and work with President Obama to get things done." Only 27% of voters would want Republicans to "pursue their own agenda to get things done."

Among "very likely" voters, 68% want to see the two parties to work together, while 27% want the GOP to pursue their own agenda. (I won't know until I field it, but my bet is if we had put the question to voters whether a Republican victory in November is a signal to President Obama and Democrats that it is time to compromise, we would see similar numbers.)

Most significantly, even among Republican "Very likely" voters, while 50% say they want Republicans to pursue their own agenda, a sizeable 47% say they want Republicans to work with President Obama and Democrats.

So, what do all of these data tell us? By a significant margin, voters appear poised to vote for divided government, with the expectation that it will improve the economy. But, they also expect that the two parties will work together to solve economic challenges.

It seems like we hear that message from every election. But, I would posit that, in the face of such dire economic conditions, the data show us the limits of either party's pursuit of a "base" strategy have been reached. The Great Recession as an added an "or else" to what seems to be the electorate's biennial electoral plea, and the failure of a party in power (or perceived to be in power ) to heed that message carries major electoral risks.