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Poll Shows GOP Focused on Terrorism, Democrats on the Economy

Capitol Police officers stand by an armored vehicle in front of the east front of the Capitol on Monday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The latest American Values Survey paints a picture of a mistrustful, world-weary electorate that’s pretty much had it with political dynasties, monolingual immigrants and political correctness in general.  

Aside from the logical divide on who the two parties' official standard-bearers will be, both sides are far apart on the most critical issues facing the nation, the poll shows.  

Republicans are most consumed by terrorism, immigration and the tenets of Islam while Democrats are eyeing health care, education and economic uncertainty.  

“One of the things that I think bears watching is how events in Europe impact the immigration question,” Public Religion Research Institute Research Director Dan Cox said, citing the recent attacks in Paris as something that will most certainly affect how the presidential hopefuls —particularly those currently serving in Congress — proceed on national security issues.  

Party divide on issues More than two-thirds of those surveyed regardless of political identity ticked off health care, terrorism and jobs/unemployment as core concerns, whereas less than a third mentioned religious liberty or same-sex marriage.  

Among Republicans, nearly 8 in 10 want terrorism tackled first. Firming up the health care system is paramount for roughly 6 in 10 GOP respondents, while immigration and jobs/unemployment are equally important to 59 percent of that group.  

About 7 in 10 Democrats surveyed had health care at the top of their list of concerns, followed by jobs/unemployment (66 percent) and those split between addressing education and economic inequality (both at 62 percent).  

Interest in 2016 Record ratings for presidential debates this year bear out the interest the poll found in the 2016 election, with about 40 percent saying they are "very interested" in the race and a like number saying they were "somewhat interested."  

About 4 in 10 said they were “very interested” in the upcoming election and a little fewer than that say they are "somewhat interested." About 1 in 5 characterized themselves as not very interested or not at all interested.  

Those who identified as tea party supporters were the most enthralled, with nearly 6 in 10 intently tracking the election.  

The Get-Off-My-Lawn Caucus After several months of stoking anti-immigrant fervor, Trump appeals to the most xenophobic Americans, the poll shows. His supporters were 20 percent more likely to list immigration as a top priority than those behind other GOP candidates.  

Four out of every 5 Trump supporters view immigrants as an economic burden because “they take American jobs, housing and health care,” and nearly three quarters of them are bothered by having to deal with immigrants who speak little to no English. While a majority (56 percent) of those backing other GOP candidates voiced concerns about immigrants, less than two-thirds got hung up on the language barrier.  

Trump fans are also up in arms about another situation: reverse racism.  

Nearly three quarters of Trump supporters said discrimination against whites is as troubling as discrimination against minorities, with more than 4 in 10 voicing concern that “white men face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today.”  

Wither the Tea Party There’s good and bad news for newly minted Speaker Paul D. Ryan.  

While the survey found that the composition of the tea party remains constant — “The Tea Party continues to be older, whiter, and more male than the general population,” PRRI reports — those who identify with the movement continue to decline. The ranks within the general population dropped 5 points since 2010 (from 11 percent to 6 percent), while those who identify with the tea party within the GOP dipped by 8 percent.  

Those sticking with the group, however, remain as hardline as ever.  

Nearly half of the tea party respondents are fine with elected officials shutting down the government for political reasons, while 46 percent would rather see compromise carry the day.  

New Blood in the White House The one thing both sides had in common was reservations about reliving the past.  

A majority of those surveyed indicated that electing another Bush or Clinton in the White House “would be bad for the country.” Forty five percent of the respondents disagreed.  

Nearly seven in 10 tea party members expressed reservations about another Bush or Clinton presidency, a sentiment shared by nearly two thirds of likely Republican primary voters and 61 percent of Republicans. Democrats were more receptive to familiar faces; about two-fifths opposed to another Bush or Clinton administration while fewer than four in 10 Democratic primary voters balked at the idea.  

Researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute contacted 2,695 voting-age adults between Sept. 11 and Oct. 4, 2015 who self-identified as independent voters (995), Democrats (962), Republicans (659) and tea party supporters (179) via phone and online. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, with a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points.  

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