IU’s Annual Survey on Congress’s Performance Shows Differences and Priorities Among Political Parties
BLOOMINGTON, Ind., May 6, 2021—Democrats and Republicans have sharply contrasting views about the importance of a free press, an independent judiciary, the Bill of Rights and a potent Congress, according to a survey of public attitudes about political institutions and public affairs conducted by Indiana University's Center on Representative Government and Center on American Politics.
IU has been conducting its public opinion survey since 2007, and the annual effort is overseen by Distinguished Professor of Political Science Edward G. Carmines, the Warner O. Chapman Professor of Political Science and a Rudy Professor at IU.
In the survey, conducted in late 2020, Republicans and Democrats expressed similar support for the checks and balances afforded by the three branches of U.S. government; 68 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats regarded checks and balances to be very important.
But most survey findings exhibited several key differences in the opinions of Democrats and Republicans on issues concerning the influence of Congress in relation to the other main branches of U.S. government, as well as the media. For example:
- 25 percent of Republicans said it is very important that the U.S. have a Congress with power equal to that of the president, while 47 percent of Democrats said it is very important.
- 59 percent of Republicans rated an independent judiciary as very important to America's representative government, well below the 67 percent of Democrats who said an independent judiciary is very important.
- 46 percent of Republicans said it was very important to have "a Bill of Rights that guarantees the rights of a political minority," compared to 57 percent of Democrats.
- 57 percent of GOP respondents regarded a free and independent press as very important, compared to 74 percent of Democrats who see the media's role as very important.
"At least when it comes to these aspects of American government, Democrats place more importance on them than Republicans," Carmines said. "The partisan difference is especially striking concerning a free and independent press."
The survey results did not indicate that Republicans value aspects of America's representative government less than Democrats. Instead, when respondents were asked about civil liberties, Republicans and Democrats shared different priorities.
In the abstract, Democrats were more convinced that the government should protect civil liberties.
- 76 percent of Democrats, but only 66 percent of Republicans, felt it was very important that "all adult citizens enjoy the same legal and political rights."
- Compared to 66 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats said it was very important that "all adult citizens have an equal opportunity to vote."
- Just 39 percent of Republicans indicated it was very important that "government does not interfere with journalists or professional news organizations," while 67 percent of Democrats felt this was very important.
- 72 percent of Democrats -- but only 51 percent of Republicans -- indicated it was very important that “government protects individuals' right to engage in peaceful protest."
Republicans were more convinced that the government should protect unpopular speech and attitudes.
- 54 percent of Republicans, but only 42 percent of Democrats, said it was very important that "government protects individuals' right to engage in unpopular speech and expression."
- Just 38 percent of Democrats indicated it was very important that "parties and candidates are not barred due to their political beliefs and ideologies," while 60 percent of Republicans felt this was very important to America’s representative government.