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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Attitudes toward political parties and party leaders mixed in national survey

Survey done by IU's Center on Congress

EDITORS: Edward Carmines, research director for the Center on Congress, is available for phone interviews. Contact George Vlahakis for assistance in reaching him.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Do people think it is better when the presidency and the majority of Congress are controlled by the different political parties? How do most people view a divided government?

According to a the results of a survey conducted by Indiana University's Center on Congress -- both before and after the 2002 Congressional election -- it's an issue that is more important to pundits, party leaders and political historians than to many voters.

Citizens contacted for the national survey, "Exercising Citizenship in American Democracy," were equally divided on whether a divided government provides another form of checks and balances. Of the 1,500 Americans surveyed throughout the United States, including the 50 most competitive congressional districts, 37.9 percent said a divided government matters, while another 37.5 percent said it did not.

"Some political scientists suggest that voters prefer divided government to unified party government in order to balance competing interests," said Edward Carmines, research director for the center, Rudy Professor and Warner O. Chapman Professor of Political Science at IU Bloomington. Carmines said these survey results suggest "that the electorate is closely divided about the value and effectiveness of divided government."

According to the survey, Americans want good government, but less than a majority believe that divided party control is necessary for good government.

The survey, partially funded by the Alliance for Representative Democracy and the U.S. Department of Education, also found that respondents were almost evenly divided in their assessments of Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, but gave an edge of approval to the Republicans.

Asked to evaluate party leadership in Congress, 40.9 percent of the respondents gave Republicans a neutral rating and 35.1 percent gave Democrats a neutral rating. Republicans narrowly edged out Democrats in overt approval, while Democrats received just slightly more overt disapproval than Republicans.

Twenty-one percent of respondents gave Republicans good marks and 16.6 percent gave a favorable rating to Democrats. Twenty-one percent gave Democrats a somewhat unfavorable rating while 19.4 percent did the same for Republicans.

Carmines said these results suggest "that Americans remain very divided in their evaluations of the parties, mirroring the extremely close elections of 2000 and 2002."

The exhaustive survey was conducted by telephone by the IU Center for Survey Research in two phases: between September to November 2002 and November to December 2002. The center asked 130 questions during an hour-long interview with each respondent. Other results have been previously released about public opinion toward Congress and how citizens assess how well it functions.

In other survey results:

-- Respondents said they believed the government and Congress were largely responsible for both the nation's successes and failures in the last 100 years.

-- A majority of citizens nationwide indicated that the system worked well in determining the winner of the disputed 2000 Presidential election, raising questions about whether the controversial outcome would be an effective campaign issue in 2004. Forty-four percent of respondents said the system did "a good job" in settling the election and another 10 percent said it did "a very good job" at picking the winner. Conversely, 25 percent said the system did "a bad job" in settling the matter and 21 percent said it did "a very bad job."

"Attitudes on the outcome of the 2000 election still seem to be fairly divided," Carmines said, "but a majority seem to be satisfied with the outcome. This suggests that Democrats may be able to rally the party faithful with charges that the election outcome was unfair, but that most voters will not be strongly influenced by this issue."

The Center on Congress, located on the Bloomington campus of IU, has the goal of improving public understanding of Congress. The center is directed by Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman. Hamilton has said this study "will add greatly to our understanding of how citizens perceive and evaluate Congress, including its role in our representative democracy."

More information on the Alliance for Representative Democracy can be found at For further information on the survey or a copy of the complete results, contact Wayne Vance at the Center on Congress at 812-856-4706 or The center's Web site is at