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Majority in Bay State Hold GOP Responsible for Shutdown

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2013 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

President Obama’s job approval, support for health care reform rise in latest survey

Fifty-six percent of adults in Massachusetts say that Republicans in Congress bear the greatest responsibility for the partial shutdown of the federal government, according to the latest telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The poll of 468 adults, conducted Oct. 1 through 7, after the start of the shutdown, also found that four in five adults – 80 percent – disapprove of the job Republicans are doing in Congress. Survey respondents were more evenly divided over the job that Democrats are doing in Congress, with 43 percent of adults approving and 49 percent of adults disapproving.

President Barack Obama’s job approval, meanwhile, stood at 58 percent among adults in the latest survey, with 34 percent disapproving. The results reflected a slight change from the Polling Institute’s previous measure of president job approval in June, when 54 percent of adults approved and 38 percent disapproved of the job Obama is doing. The latest survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the sample of 468 adults, and plus or minus 4.7 percentage points for the sub-sample of 431 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts.

The health care reform law that triggered the shutdown, meanwhile, received high marks from Massachusetts residents in the survey. Sixty-two percent of adults said they support the legislation, known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, while 31 percent said they oppose the law and seven percent said they did not know or declined to answer.

Support for the law has risen since the Polling Institute last asked about the legislation in an April 2010 survey, conducted a few weeks after Congress approved the reforms. In the April 2010 survey, 46 percent of adults said they supported the health care reform bill, while 45 percent said they opposed it.

The April 2010 version of the question did not include the terms Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said he doubted that all of the improvement in public sentiment regarding the law was due to the use of those terms in the latest version of the question.

National polling data has shown slight differences in attitudes when using the terms Affordable Care Act as opposed to Obamacare. We used both terms to ensure respondents knew what we were asking about, and we assumed any wording effects would cancel each other out with the use of both terms,” Vercellotti said.

Massachusetts residents appear to be less pessimistic about the law in the latest survey, but survey respondents are still skeptical as to whether the law will improve the quality of health care or lower costs.

Forty-nine percent of adults said the law will make no difference to the quality of health care that they receive, while 19 percent said the law would improve care and 27 percent said the law would reduce the quality of care. The percentage saying the law would reduce the quality of care has dropped from 40 percent in the April 2010 survey.

There was only slight improvement in public sentiment regarding the law’s effect on health care costs. Forty-eight percent of adults said the law would increase the amount of money they pay for health care, down from 54 percent in the April 2010 survey. Thirty-four percent said the law would make no difference in the amount they pay for care, up from 29 percent in 2010. Fourteen percent said the law would reduce costs, up from 10 percent in 2010.

Backing of the health care law was highly correlated with support for President Obama. Among adults who said they approve of the job Obama is doing, 92 percent said they support the law.

"Massachusetts residents are still skeptical that the law will have a positive effect on care and costs,” Vercellotti said. “There has been slight improvement in the numbers, but the jury is still out. Public approval of the law seems to be driven less by policy considerations and more by general support for the president, at least in Massachusetts."

Views were more clear-cut regarding the partial government shutdown. The survey found that none of the key players in Washington escape blame for the shutdown, but the share of the responsibility tilts disproportionately toward Republican lawmakers.

Fifty-six percent of adults said Republicans in Congress are most responsible, while 16 percent pointed to Obama, five percent to Democrats in Congress, and 18 percent volunteered that the president and both parties in Congress were all responsible for the shutdown.

Attributions of responsibility varied by party. Seventy-six percent of voters who said they think of themselves as Democrats said Republicans were most responsible, as did 53 percent of independent voters. Forty-two percent of voters who identified themselves as Republicans pointed to Obama as most responsible, but 22 percent of Republicans indicated that members of their own party in Congress were most responsible, and another 21 percent pointed to the Democrats.

Massachusetts voters also are polarized in their views of the job that the two parties are doing in Congress. Ninety-seven percent of Democrats disapprove of the job that Republicans are doing in Congress, while 89 percent of Republican voters disapprove of the job that Democratic lawmakers are doing.

A majority of independent voters disapproved of both parties’ performance in Congress. But independents were more likely to offer negative views about Republican lawmakers, with 79 percent expressing disapproval. Among independent voters, 58 percent disapproved of the job Democrats are doing.

Vercellotti noted that, with elections for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and governor coming up in Massachusetts in 2014, if voters’ negative views of Republicans in Washington persist, Republican candidates in Massachusetts could feel those effects.

 "The challenge for Republican candidates will be to motivate their base in Massachusetts while attempting to persuade independent and Democratic voters that they do not march in lockstep with Congressional Republicans,” Vercellotti said. “Democrats in Massachusetts will be only too happy to link local Republican candidates to the national party."

Established in 2005, the Western New England University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with opportunities to participate in public opinion research.