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Republicans And Democrats Have Very Different Ideas About What Saved A Congressional Ethics Watchdog

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Republicans’ attempt last week to gut an independents ethics office has already faded from the news cycle in the face of a jam-packed schedule of cabinet hearings, President-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference in months and new allegations about Russia’s role in the election. But a new poll about the ethics office dust-up sheds some light on just how deeply partisanship shapes Americans’ views of current events.

Sixty-two percent of Americans heard anything about the story, according to a HuffPost/YouGov survey, with only a quarter saying they’d heard a lot. Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to say they’d heard a lot about the incident.

Among those who’d heard at least a little, the plan to curb the power of the ethics office was vastly unpopular, with just 16 percent approving and 67 percent disapproving. Although Democrats were far more strongly opposed than Republicans, few in either party were outright supportive. Only 12 percent of Democrats, 25 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of independents approved. 

But the real difference came in perceptions of how exactly the move fell apart.

In the aftermath of the story, some news outlets directly credited the decision to a series of tweets from Trump, who called the office “unfair,” but suggested that weakening it shouldn’t be a congressional priority:

Others, however, attributed the GOP’s reversal more to the unexpectedly heated outcry it provoked from constituents.

“The calls we’ve gotten in my district office and here in Washington has surprised me, meaning the number of calls,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told HuffPost last week. “People are just sick and tired.”

Public opinion on which factor was more responsible was close to evenly split ― 34 percent of those who’d heard about the story thought that members of the public were responsible for derailing the proposed change, with 30 percent crediting Trump and 36 percent unsure or citing something else.

Democrats, by a 24-point margin, 45 percent to 21 percent, believed that public opposition had more to do with the reversal than did Trump’s statement, with the rest crediting something else, or saying that they weren’t sure.

In contrast, Republicans, by a 25-point margin, 44 percent to 19 percent, thought it was due mostly to Trump. Independents were evenly split, with 36 percent crediting public opposition, and 34 percent opposition by Donald Trump, but those who leaned toward the GOP were 22 points likelier than those who leaned toward the Democrats to consider Trump the driving force.

The split was even more dramatic among those who voted in last year’s election, with 53 percent of Clinton supporters who’d heard about the story saying public opposition played a bigger role, and 51 percent of Trump voters crediting the president-elect with stopping the move.

The results are a reminder of how Americans’ political beliefs drive not only their opinions on issues, but also the way they consume and interpret the news.

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, his supporters have been more willing to assign him credit for positive developments, with his critics more ready to cast blame. In an experiment conducted last year, Republicans who were asked about how their personal finances had changed since “President Obama was first elected” were more negative than those asked to compare their situation with “the year 2008.” Democrats, in contrast, were less likely to admit that income inequality had risen when Obama’s name was mentioned.

Now, with a Republican president about to take office, that trend looks likely to reverse. A December survey found that 81 percent of Trump voters, but just 35 percent of Clinton voters, thought the president-elect had succeeded in stopping U.S. jobs from being shipped abroad.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 7-9 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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