By Eli Yokley
November 16, 2022 at 11:15 am ET
Among House Republicans’ potential legislative priorities for the next Congress, increasing border security is considered a top priority for the largest share of voters.
Just 9% of voters say Congress should only raise the debt limit if cuts are made to Social Security and Medicare.
Near majorities of Democrats and Republicans, respectively, support another leadership term for Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy.
Republicans are poised to take control of the House with grand plans for base-driven investigations into the Biden administration and advancement of a conservative policy agenda to draw contrasts with Democrats ahead of the 2024 elections.
While a handful of these action items are popular with the majority of Republican voters, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey conducted after the 2022 midterm elections shows meager interest among the overall electorate, which also roundly rejects proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security in exchange for raising the federal debt limit.
With the Senate again narrowly in Democratic hands and House Republicans likely to hold only a small majority, the GOP’s biggest strength will be on the investigative front. Using congressional authority, a Republican-led House will be able to force administration officials on the defensive on a range of issues, from grievances over the COVID-19 pandemic to the personal finances of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Among 17 potential inquiries tested, only one — fentanyl trafficking into the United States — was ranked a top priority by a majority of voters. Next on the investigative wish list is U.S.-Mexico border operations, followed by the infant formula shortage that happened earlier this year.
Less than 3 in 10 voters said Congress should focus on a presidential impeachment investigation, as sought by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), or the first son’s politically uncomfortable business dealings — though there is zeal among over half of the GOP electorate for such probes.
On the policy front, few voters see many potential Republican legislative proposals as worthy of prioritization, but the survey suggests lawmakers could be responsive to public sentiment with a focus on immigration.
Of the GOP-leaning priorities presented to voters, increasing border security, a long-held conservative policy aspiration that in the past has found support among Democratic officials, topped the list, with 45% saying Congress should make it a top priority, driven by 3 in 4 Republicans but also backed by 1 in 5 Democrats.
A quarter of voters (26%) said Congress should focus on extending the 2017 tax cuts enacted by then-President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, similar to the share who want lawmakers to prioritize the elimination of 87,000 Internal Revenue Service agents, the funding for which was provided in the Democrats’ signature Inflation Reduction Act earlier this year, subsequently becoming the focus of a number of GOP campaign ads.
Just around 1 in 5 voters said lawmakers should prioritize cutting U.S. support for Ukraine as it fights Russian aggression, which House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California has threatened, or banning abortion nationwide at 15 weeks as sought in the Senate by Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Beyond aspirational policy goals and investigative targets, the next Congress will face at least one thorny must-pass issue if the lame-duck session ends without a result: raising the federal debt limit.
The complexity of the debt-limit issue, which could potentially lead to a downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, appears to be obscuring its importance to voters. Just 13% of voters view it as a top priority — including just 19% of Democratic voters and 10% of Republicans and independents.
As Republicans inched toward House control, some leaders suggested using the fight over the country’s statutory borrowing cap to extract concessions from Democrats, including changes to Social Security and Medicare eligibility. Just 6% of voters think Congress should focus on cutting those safety-net programs, and once provided an explanation of the stakes involved, very few want to see them used as leverage to avoid a federal default.
Roughly 7 in 10 voters, with little divide between Democrats and Republicans, said Congress should raise the debt limit without making cuts to Social Security and Medicare, compared with about 1 in 10 who said lawmakers should take the action only if entitlement cuts are made.
The electorate appears more supportive of using the debt limit fight to extract concessions on Democratic priorities that don’t necessarily mess with the third rail in American politics, such as cuts to IRS funding or money for the development of renewable energy, another key plank of the Inflation Reduction Act.
Before the next Congress gets to the policy debates, each party will need to resolve questions of personnel: Who will lead the respective caucuses?
It’s still an open question whether McCarthy, who reportedly picked up 188 votes during the House Republican Conference’s leadership election on Tuesday, will secure the 218 votes needed to become speaker in January if, as expected, Republicans regain a majority. House Democrats, meanwhile, are waiting for a decision from current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California about whether she wants to remain atop the caucus.
Among voters of their respective parties, both McCarthy and Pelosi have similar levels of support for retaining their roles.
Roughly half of Democratic voters (47%) said Pelosi should seek another term as House Democratic leader, slightly less than the 53% who said the same after the 2020 elections. Her current support is similar to the share of Republican voters who said McCarthy should stay on (49%) — in line with his standing two years ago.
There is slightly more opposition among Democrats to another Pelosi leadership term (32%) than there is for McCarthy among Republicans (26%), and both figures are similar to what they were in December 2020.
Among the overall electorate, only about a quarter of voters say each House leader should stay.
The Morning Consult/Politico survey was conducted Nov. 10-14, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,983 registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Eli Yokley is a senior data reporter at Morning Consult covering politics and campaigns. @eyokley