January 29, 2013

Voters put party first, study shows

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago has released the results of a comprehensive independent survey, concluding that regardless of individual experiences with finance and healthcare, people were likely to vote along partisan lines in the 2012 presidential election.

The three-part survey, titled “2012 NORC Presidential Election Study: Americans’ Views on Entitlement Reform and Healthcare,” was designed to gauge public opinion about three key issues of the election—economic recovery, health care costs, and political polarization.

The survey was carried out in partnership with five academics across the country, including two University of Chicago faculty—John Mark Hansen, Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Professor in Political Science, and Kirk Wolter, a statistics professor and NORC’s Executive Vice President of Survey Research.

“The [2012] election was shaping [up]to be one of the more interesting ones in my lifetime and certainly the most interesting [election] in recent memory,” Wolter said. “We felt we wanted to shed light on the election because many polls in the media were quite shallow and use mediocre methodology, so we wanted to dig deeper and determine the issues that were critical to this election and the future policy-making decisions.”

The survey results indicate that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) did not give Obama an advantage in the election—85 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents stated they intended to vote for Obama, and 82 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents they planned on voting for Romney, regardless of personal experiences with health care and attitudes towards the ACA.

“Partisanship plays a significant role for people. The ACA was a significant policy proposal, and it would have taken a lot of effort and information to work through each of its points for any individual,” Hansen said. “It is natural for voters to fall back on partisanship because the people trust that leaders in the party will look out for their best interest.”

According to Hansen, the nationally representative study tallied the opinions of 1,125 adults across Democrat, Republican, and independent party lines. The participants were polled twice: once from mid-September to October before the election and again in the weeks following the election. The first questionnaire primarily focused on perceptions ofq the economy, while the second dealt with attitudes towards specific policies, including the ACA.