BLOOMINGTON, Ind., — Democrats and Republicans have different views about the importance of a free press, an independent judiciary, the Bill of Rights, and a potent Congress, according to a …
BLOOMINGTON, Ind., — Democrats and Republicans have different 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 in late 2020 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 Edward G. Carmines, a distinguished professor of Political Science, the Warner O. Chapman Professor of Political Science and a Rudy Professor at IU.
Republicans and Democrats expressed similar support for the checks and balances afforded by the three branches of government as 68 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats regarded checks and balances to be very important. But most survey findings exhibited key differences in the opinions of Democrats and Republicans. For example:
• 25 percent of Republicans said it is very important that the United States 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, much 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,” Carmines noted, “Democrats place more importance on them than Republicans. The partisan difference is especially striking concerning a free and independent press.”
However, these results do 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 prioritized different things.
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.”
But meanwhile, 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.
“It is noteworthy that Democrats and Republicans value different aspects of America’s representative government,” observes U.S. Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, a contributor of guest commentaries which appear regularly on this page and a political science professor at University of Indiana.
Unfortunately, these disagreements may persist for the foreseeable future.
Alongside their philosophical differences, Republicans and Democrats disagreed about the practical advantages of compromise. When respondents were asked whether members of Congress should “compromise with their opponents to get something done” or “stand up for their principles no matter what” the survey found a 25-percentage-point difference of opinions.
Here, 73 percent of Democrats indicated they favored compromise — but only 48 percent of Republicans felt the same. These differences, according to Hamilton, “may make it more difficult for Congress to reach negotiated compromises and instead may lead to legislative and policy gridlock.”