Thank you to the staff of DCLRS for their notes on the political climate of the U.S. …
The 2012 Election is just about one year away. Congress and President Obama should be grateful because if the election were today many incumbents would lose.
Obama’s approval rating is only 43.8% and no president has been reelected without being at least 50% going into the election cycle. He is up slightly in the last few weeks but is almost 12% points down from the beginning of 2011. And equally important, only two presidents have ever be reelected with unemployment over 9%. They are FDR and Reagan; the country believed these two presidents had the economy on the right track. Recent history shows most presidents with these low numbers will lose. Carter in 1980 and George HW Bush in 1992 come readily to mind.
Congressional approval is now only 9%. Whereas conventional wisdom would say this number doesn’t mean too much because all voters hate Congress but love their own member, recent history suggests a different story. For example, in the 2010 election, one short year ago, 45% of all registered voters said they would “vote out every member of Congress including their own.” In the that election, Democrats lost 63 seats, the greatest mid-term loss since 1938 over 72 years ago. Today, 54% of all registered voters say they would “vote out every member of Congress including their own.” This is not good news for Congressional Republicans. But it probably helps Republicans in the Senate since 23 of the 33 Senators up for reelection are on the Democratic side.
The real polling numbers, as espoused by registered voters who always vote, says all incumbents are vulnerable this year because the “dysfunction” in the political cycle is worse than ever. On this day, only 9% of registered voters approves of Congress. In modern times, it has never been this bad. Congressional Democrats who got beaten so badly one year ago, had an approval rating of 12%. So it is clear that registered voters do not think the change in Congress has been helpful, on the contrary, voters are more unhappy than ever.
Part of the public’s unhappiness is centered on the Tea Party and their unwillingness to compromise on anything. When Congressional Republicans threatened to default on the U.S. debt ceiling on August 3rd, voters took a dim view of their actions. When the U.S. debt was downgraded, voters liked this even less. They get that debt is the problem but they don’t like the “my way or the highway” approach. However, the almost 60 Tea Party Republicans do like this approach and claim they do not care if the government does shut down.
Voters by percentage—Today, 23% of registered voters are Democrats, approximately 20% are Republican and about 42% are independent. The independent number has been growing. Independents are really “party switchers.” This means they are not “base voters” but will change parties without having any ideological regrets and they often vote for a different party in each election cycle. They are fickle, angry, results oriented and not willing to listen to all the political bickering. They have become the most important voting bloc.
In 2006 and 2008, independents “switchers” swung towards Democrats and brought down the Congressional Republicans and swept in Barack Obama. They gave Democrats control of all three branches, and until Senator Kennedy of Mass. Died, Democrats have a filibuster proof majority. This is how we got the health care law. But the way this victory was achieved turned off the independent voter. These “switchers” did not like the lack of compromise.
In 2010, the “switchers” moved very solidly behind the GOP and defeated 63 Democrats. The Tea Party played a large role in nominating many of these new members but it was “switchers” who gave them their victory. So many new Republicans have made the Tea Party happy but have infuriated the “switchers” and are no more popular than the members they beat one short year ago. This is why the new Congress has been in trouble from almost day one.
But Obama isn’t much better off because 2 out 3 Obama voters say they are worse off than the day he took office. And only 17.7% of voters think the country is on the right track with 75.8% saying the country is on the wrong track. This is roughly the same situation that existed when voters threw out Pelosi’s Democrats and handed John McCain a defeat for the candidacy “of hope and change.” Voters were restless then and they are equally restless now. This is not a good sign for any incumbent.
These are restless times. Only 3 times in American history have voters thrown out 20 or more incumbents for three straight elections. They did this around the time of World War 1, just as America was coming out of World War 11 and the last three elections. It is likely to happen a fourth time for the first time ever in 2012. Each era had a period of international turbulence, social turbulence and economic turbulence and our era has all three. Between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the terrible economy and the lack of opportunity for the recent college graduates and older workers that have been unemployed for almost three years, there is a hopelessness that is the worst in decades. Even the Occupy Wall Street group reflects this discontent and a feeling that they are getting further and further behind.
Current poll numbers show that 59% of “switchers” voted for Obama in 2008, then voted Republican in 2010. About 16% of them will back Obama, about 25% say they will back the Republican nominee (regardless of who it is) and 59% say they are “up for grabs and potentially switchable again.” In 12 crucial battleground states including Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia and North Carolina, the “switchables” are supporting Obama and the Democrats by a 44% to 43% margin, which is to say they are evenly split.
Republicans have lots of bad news too. For instance, 50% of all voters agree with the goals of Occupy Wall Street, 70% of voters say Republicans favor the rich, 89% do not trust the federal government and 75% of voters say that Congress will not create jobs. Furthermore, they say that Mitt Romney is the most electable but he only has the support of about 25% of Republican primary voters. If the election were today, Romney would possibly win a very close race, Nancy Pelosi would become Speaker again and Republicans would win a bare majority of the Senate.
This current split of a Republican House, Democratic Senate and Democratic president with low approval has not existed since Reconstruction in the late 1860’s—70’s.
The election is still a year away so much can change. But much will have to change not only with the economy but with how voters judge the effectiveness of Congress and their ability to work with President Obama. And President Obama has to show he is effective in working with a Congress that does not favor him. If these judgments do not change, the voters will once again “switch.”
All information courtesy of the staff of
DC Legislative and Regulatory Services