The Changing Perspectives on Key Policy Issues

By Harris, Special for  USDR

A new Harris Poll revisits public sentiment towards 15 issues which typically divide along party lines, with some notable changes since these same issues were gauged in 2011. The largest majorities of Americans support cutting government spending (84%), increased educational spending (82%), no tax increases (82%), stricter environmental protection (77%), and embryonic stem-cell research  (76%).

Many positions have shifted notably in the four years since these questions were last asked; others are notable for their lack of movement. Support for no tax increases has grown eight percentage points (from 74% to 82%) and support for same-sex marriage has grown by seven (51%-58%), while support has declined for deporting more illegal aliens (76%-68%), off-shore drilling (67%-58%) and cutting defense spending  (54%-43%).

When asked which two of these issues would be most important to them when voting for a candidate, Americans are most likely to point to cutting government spending (28%, down 10 points from 2011) and no tax increases (28%, up 2 points). These are followed by The Affordable Care Act (20%, down 6 points), increased educational spending (18%, down 1 point), deporting more illegal aliens (16%, up 1 point), stricter gun control (16%, up 11 points), less government regulation (14%, up 1 point), same-sex marriage (12%, up 4 points) and stricter environmental protection (11%, up 3  points).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,220 adults surveyed online between June 17 and 22, 2015. No polling is conducted in a vacuum free of outside influence. In this case, it’s important to note that these questions were fielded in the wake of June 17’s Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina and prior to the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage. Full results of the study, including data tables, can be found  here.

In comparing Republicans’ and Democrats’ attitudes toward these issues, the widest differences (i.e. the greatest polarization) exist  on:

  • The Affordable Care Act (supported by 78% of Democrats but only 15% of Republicans),
  • Same sex marriage (supported by 74% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans),
  • Stricter gun control (supported by 80% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans),
  • Abortion rights (supported by 82% of Democrats and 44% of republicans), and
  • Off-shore drilling (supported by 78% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats).

What issues are most important to  Republicans?
The strongest majorities of Republicans support cutting government spending (93%), no tax increases (90%), and prayer in school (87%). When asked which two issues would be most important when deciding whom to vote for, the top selections among Republicans are cutting government spending (38%), no tax increases (32%), less government regulation (22%), The Affordable Care Act (19%) and deporting more illegal aliens (19%).

What issues are most important to Democrats?
The strongest majorities of Democrats support increased educational spending (94%), stricter environmental protection (91%), and embryonic stem cell research (85%). When asked which two issues would be most important when deciding whom to vote for, Democrats’ top selections are increased educational spending (27%), no tax increases (24%), stricter gun control (24%) and The Affordable Care Act  (23%).

What “platform” issues show crossover party  support?
The poll reveals several issues where the traditional conservative positions appeal to most Democrats, along with multiple traditionally liberal positions earning majority support among  Republicans:

  • Majorities of Democrats support the conservative positions of cutting government spending (73%), no tax increases (72%), less government regulation (57%), and reducing immigration (56%).
  • Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans support the traditionally liberal positions of increasing educational spending (73%), embryonic stem-cell research (63%) and stricter environmental protection (58%).

Where do Independents  stand?
On nine of the issues tested, majorities of Independents favor the Conservative position. Most auspiciously, 89% favor cutting government spending, 83% support no tax increases, 76% support less government regulations and 75% support deporting more illegal  aliens.

Majorities of Independents favor the more liberal positions on six of the issues tested, with standouts including support for embryonic stem-cell research (81%), increased educational spending (79%) and stricter environmental protection  (76%).

Changes within – and outside of – the parties
Both within and outside of parties, attitudes do shift over  time.

  • Looking at Republicans, support for off-shore drilling has decreased from 87% in 2011 to 78% today, while support for embryonic stem-cell research has grown from 56% to 63%. Support for same-sex marriage, while still a minority position among Republicans, has grown from 24% to 32%
  • Democrats’ support for no tax increases (63% vs. 72%) has increased, while diminishing support can be seen for cutting defense spending (70% vs. 59%), deporting more illegal immigrants (62% vs. 51%) and off-shore drilling (52% vs. 40%).
  • Independents, meanwhile, are more likely than in 2011 to support no tax increases (73% in 2011 vs. 83% today) and less government regulation (70% vs. 76%) but less likely to support off-shore drilling (68% vs. 61%) and considerably less likely to support cuts to defense spending  (61% vs. 41%).

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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between May 20 and 26, 2015 among 2,225 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be  online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this  ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be  calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public  Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

About The Harris  Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world.  The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public.  New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit us at

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