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As McConnell gears up for obstruction, 43 percent of Republican voters say they prefer bipartisanship

Some Republicans say they’d still like to see lawmakers work with President Joe Biden.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attends a Senate Rules Committee markup on S-1, an election and ethics reform package, on May 11, 2021, in Washington, DC. 
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear what he hopes to do this term: obstruct President Joe Biden’s administration in the same way he obstructed then-President Barack Obama’s.

“One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell said at a press conference. “What we have in the United States Senate is total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country.” McConnell later caveated his comments slightly, noting: “I’m anxious on stopping the Biden agenda — depending on what it is.”

According to a survey fielded by Vox and Data for Progress prior to McConnell’s comments, some Republican voters don’t necessarily want lawmakers to do that. Instead, they maintain a focus on bipartisanship that’s consistent with past surveys — and one that looks increasingly untenable in the current Congress.

Per that poll, 68 percent of all people, including 43 percent of Republicans, said they think it’s more important for GOP members of Congress to find ways to work with Biden rather than refusing to compromise. Meanwhile, 50 percent of Republicans said they were in favor of Republicans refusing to compromise, while 7 percent weren’t sure. That breakdown speaks to a general preference for bipartisanship that voters have expressed in polls in the past as well: In a Monmouth survey this past January, 71 percent of all voters also emphasized that they wanted Republicans to work with Biden, including 41 percent of Republicans.

McConnell’s comments, though, speak to how unlikely bipartisanship on key policies really is moving forward, and why Democrats have already used budget reconciliation as a way to pass coronavirus aid unilaterally. Because of Republican opposition, Democrats might have to use the same methods once again for other priorities like infrastructure and child care.

Already, Republicans put forth an infrastructure offer that’s much narrower than what the White House has proposed: As the Biden administration moves to advance a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure bill that includes expansive funding for roads, bridges, and broadband, which would be paid for by tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations, Senate Republicans have balked at the pay-fors and countered with a roughly $570 billion proposal.

It’s worth noting that there is some appetite for a bipartisan compromise, though the two parties have yet to reconcile key differences. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) recently told Politico Republicans are willing to go higher than their initial offer, and McConnell suggested that his cap is $800 billion. At the same time, Democrats are trying to figure out if they have the votes for their own proposal, given concerns raised by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) about the tax provisions, complicating matters further.

Still, on the whole, the prospects for bipartisanship are dim — particularly on other issues including voting rights legislation, immigration reform, and gun control, on which Republicans have long signaled pushback, too. The current state of Congress, ultimately, suggests that lawmakers may not be able to work in the bipartisan fashion that many likely voters desire given Republicans’ stated plans for obstruction, and Democrats’ hopes of passing more ambitious policies.

The Vox/DFP poll was conducted from April 30 to May 2 with 1,402 likely voters, and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Biden’s highest marks are on the pandemic

This survey also revealed that President Biden’s highest marks — across party lines — come on his handling of the pandemic, which 61 percent of people overall approve of.

In the poll, Biden has about 50 percent approval on most issues, including when it comes to his efforts on jobs and the economy (50 percent), his work on race and race relations (47 percent), policies on the environment (51 percent), and work unifying the country (48 percent). His lowest approval numbers were related to his approach to taxation (42 percent).

Biden’s disapproval ratings across these subjects, meanwhile, hover between 30 and 45 percent, with the highest disapprovals on his approach to taxation (44 percent) and unifying the country (41 percent.) Across the other issues, 39 percent of people disapprove of his work on jobs and the economy, 32 percent disapprove of his efforts on the pandemic, 39 percent disapprove of his handling on race and race relations, and 35 percent disapprove of his handling of the environment.

Biden’s response to the pandemic — which has included passage of a massive coronavirus relief package and the goal of distributing at least one vaccine dose to 70 percent of adults by July 4 — had the highest approval rating from members of all parties, including Republicans, of the issues tested. His pandemic policies received 85 percent of Democrats’ approval, 55 percent of Independents’, and 37 percent of Republicans’. Conversely, on issues like jobs and the economy and work on unifying the country, Biden received just 19 percent and 18 percent of Republicans’ support.

These findings are consistent with a recent AP-NORC poll in which Biden had a 63 percent overall approval rating, with 71 percent of people supporting his work on the pandemic.

Overall, the DFP poll also finds that 49 percent of people think Biden has been governing for both Democrats and Republicans, while 42 percent think he has been pushing a partisan agenda, since coronavirus relief passed without GOP support.

Voters prioritize the economy and reducing health care costs

Looking ahead, likely voters are most interested in strengthening the nation’s economy (81 percent), making sure the Social Security system is financially sound (76 percent), combating the pandemic (75 percent), reducing the costs of health care and prescription drugs (74 percent), and reducing crime (73 percent).

These five issues were most likely to be classified as a top priority among a list of 20 issue areas that were surveyed. But many other issues were also rated a top priority by a majority of people, including making sure voting rights are protected (72 percent), dealing with the issue of immigration (71 percent), reducing gun violence (63 percent), and improving the educational system (63 percent).

These ratings differed some across party line as well: For Republicans, the top priorities were strengthening the nation’s economy (85 percent), dealing with the issue of immigration (81 percent), and reducing crime (80 percent). For independents, they were taking steps to make the Social Security system financially sound (75 percent), strengthening the nation’s economy (75 percent), and reducing health care and prescription drug costs (74 percent). And for Democrats, they were dealing with the coronavirus outbreak (85 percent), strengthening the nation’s economy (81 percent), and reducing gun violence (80 percent).

Likely voters overall were more likely to believe that their own party was more capable of addressing the priorities they cared about. Seventy-six percent of Democrats were more likely to trust their own party to effectively strengthen the economy, for instance, while 84 percent of Republicans said the same of the GOP.

On issues including raising the minimum wage, increasing access to paid leave and child care, and dealing with climate change, though, a fifth or more of Republicans were more likely to trust Democrats on the matter, a higher proportion compared to other issue areas. About a quarter of Democrats also said they trust Republicans more when it comes to strengthening the military.

Congress and the White House have a hefty agenda to address moving forward including the American Jobs Plan, focusing on infrastructure and climate change; the American Families Plan, focusing on child care, universal pre-K, and paid leave; police reform; voting rights; gun control; and immigration reform.

Given ongoing Republican efforts to pare down or stymie several of these measures — and dissent within the Democratic caucus on some of these issues — it’s unclear just how much will advance this term.

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