The voters have a clear and dramatic message for the new Republicans in Congress and the President on the eve of his State of the Union Address: focus on jobs and the economy and show how America is going to be economically successful again. This is not a nuanced poll. If Democrats did not get the message in 2010, voters are ready to send a message again, according to the first Democracy Corps-Campaign for America’s Future survey of 2011.

The media pundits and Washington conventional wisdom say deficit reduction and cutting government spending are the top priorities for the nation; yet, the Republican Congress has prioritized health care repeal and Social Security cuts (which are on the table for the first time). They could not have it more wrong. It is jobs, stupid.

This survey, conducted after the Tucson shooting but before the President’s memorial address, shows the President’s personal favorability up appreciably and intense disapproval down significantly. He is marginally ahead of Mitt Romney and dramatically ahead of Sarah Palin in the 2012 race. Against Romney, Obama is already even among independents. 

Democrats have improved their position modestly from 2010 when they lost by 8 points. In a named Congressional ballot today, Democrats trail the Republicans by 3 points (44 to 47 percent). Democrats only trail by 4 points among Independents. The two national and congressional parties are at rough parity in public image. 

But Republicans are about to confront the gap between the mandate they claim and the voters’ priorities. This presents an opportunity for Democrats to define themselves, the choice ahead, and more importantly, to finally show what they believe about the economy and how they plan to achieve growth - above all, how to create jobs now and in the future. Right now, Democrats are basically invisible on the economy and jobs. Republicans are more trusted by 4 points on the economy and the parties are at parity on creating jobs. Democrats are also down 10 points on taxes and 14 points on the budget deficit.

We all know the unemployment rate will exceed 9 percent for some time to come, and will probably remain above 8 percent up to the election. There is no more important fact. In this survey, 17 percent report being unemployed in the past year; 41 percent counting themselves or someone in their immediate family - one half of white non-college men.

The President and the Democrats have to start over in communicating their vision on the economy. The country embraces long-term plans for investment to create jobs and favors growth as the best route to deficit reduction - strongly favoring investment over austerity. 

How this gets played out matters. Republicans say they want to challenge Obama’s agenda: that was their mandate, and the health care repeal is the symbol of their larger position toward the president. But voters in this survey strongly want the Republican Congress “to work together with the president to find compromise solutions to the country’s problems.” The image of the Tea Party has turned dramatically more negative in this new chapter of our politics. And most important, just 34 percent of presidential voters approve of the way the Republican majority is handling its job - falling to 27 percent among independents.

Key Findings

It’s Jobs, Stupid

Though respondents could choose two problems, just 25 percent say “the budget deficit is big and growing.” While it is important, it is not their top concern.

Just 17 percent think the priority for the new Congress should be repealing health care. The Republican obsession with health care repeal does not correspond with the views of the voters. (Democracy Corps will release a full survey tomorrow with Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund on health care.)

The new Congress is about to get it very wrong. The voters believe the top priority should be economic recovery and jobs (46 percent), protecting Social Security and Medicare (34 percent), and making sure children receive an education for these times (27 percent). Cutting spending and the size of government is fourth on the list, at 25 percent, and reducing the size of the budget deficit is sixth—at only 15 percent.


This memo is based on a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner forDemocracy Corps and Campaign for America’s Future. The survey was of 1,480 2008 voters (1001 weighted) conducted January 9-12, 2011. Margin of error: +/-2.5 percentage points unless otherwise noted.