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Tom Baxter

Georgia voters favor avoiding gridlock, in general

By Tom Baxter

Can we all just get along? The polls have produced some encouraging news in regard to that old question recently. Polls can be deceiving.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs shows that 52 percent of Georgia voters agree that, “in general,” it’s more important for elected officials “to compromise to get things done rather than stand on principle even if it means gridlock.”

That’s significantly less support for working together than recorded in a couple of national polls over the past year or so in which majorities of 74 and 67 percent have expressed a desire for cooperation. In this fractious state, however, it may be as close to getting along as we’re going to get.

“In general” is a particularly loaded phrase in this context. Regardless of party, most voters are more inclined to compromise on certain issues than others, and on some issues they have no “give” at all. Georgia Republicans differ with Democrats so sharply on abortion that it’s hard to see them crafting any kind of compromise. On the other hand, their differences on the legalization of marijuana are only a matter of degree: both sides favor a move toward some sort of legalization.

What the question really gets at is how inclined voters are to work with the other party without regard to the issue. There are interesting differences, both between and within the two parties. Democrats are solidly on one side of the issue: 71 percent favor compromise while 25 percent favor standing on principle.

Republicans take the opposing side, but they are much more divided on the issue: 48 percent would risk gridlock to stand by principle, but 40 percent favor compromise.

President Joe Biden’s emphasis on nonpartisanship and the Congressional Republicans’ defense of their thin minority with a hardline stance has something to do with the way their voters approach the “in general” question. But it also reflects deeper marks in the DNA of both parties. Democrats want to believe they’re more reasonable than they really are, and Republicans want to believe they’re more principled when they aren’t.

All this will be at play Wednesday when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy meets with President Biden to discuss the latest rerun of that old movie, the debt ceiling standoff.

Because the alternative would wreck the nation’s economy and set the world’s economy into a spiral, it’s almost certain their discussion will lead, circuitously, to Congress raising the government debt limit. But it’s uncomfortably true that reasonable and principled people voiced a similar optimism in August 1914.

Assuming that disaster is avoided, McCarthy faces a series of tests which almost no one seems to think he will survive. Raising the question, what if he does? One effect of being underestimated could be to project him into a position of power — real power — in his party.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ statement in a court hearing last week that charges were “imminent” in the grand jury investigation into whether Trump illegally tried to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, and her reference to “future defendants” marks the closest indication from any of the several Trump investigations that the former president actually will be indicted.

Should that lead to Trump’s political demise, a surviving McCarthy could play a big role in reshaping the party. If an indictment leads to the rekindling of Trump’s low-energy presidential campaign, McCarthy’s new bestie, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, might end up on the national ticket.

It’s striking how much the differences which make cooperation difficult have been amplified when voters think about Congress, compared to what they think about the legislature in Georgia. (My hunch is this is true of many other states as well.) Even though the Republicans now hold a slim majority in Congress, only 37 percent of Georgia Republicans have a favorable impression of Congress, compared to 68 percent with a favorable impression of the Georgia legislature.

That’s probably because voters have a more direct connection with state-level issues like sports gambling or housing regulations than the issues being debated in Washington, which may voters increasingly regard as something like the metaverse.



Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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