By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Rewarding those they despise the most

If the polls and the pundits are to be believed, voters nationwide are about to deliver a stinging rebuke to our most popular elected official by casting their ballots in favor of our most despised political class. No, I’m not making this up. And it really calls into question what people are thinking, given that they appear poised to vote Republican on Tuesday.

Now, who is the most popular elected official? That would be the much-maligned President Obama, whose job-approval ratings are in rough shape, but who, as we shall see, stands head and shoulders above Congress. Take a look at this, and you’ll see that, in recent polls, Obama’s job approval rating is almost evenly divided between positive and negative.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that 45 percent of respondents approve of the president’s performance and 52 percent disapprove. That seems to be in line with other polls I’ve seen. Yet some polls actually reverse those numbers in Obama’s favor. For instance, this Newsweek poll finds that 54 percent approve of Obama’s job performance and 40 percent disapprove. That does not sound like a president who’s down for the count.

Obama’s numbers are not only much better than those of Congress, but the congressional numbers break down in a way that is favorable to him. The public, according to surveys, despises Congress — but it loathes the Democrats slightly less than the Republicans.

Just one out of many examples: A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that the public gives Democratic members of Congress a 36 percent positive/61 percent negative job-approval rating. The same poll shows that respondents gave Republican members of Congress a 30 percent favorable rating and a 67 percent unfavorable assessment.

You might find a few exceptions, but the emphasis would be on “few.” I’ve been following these numbers off and on since Obama’s inauguration, and congressional Republicans have consistently come in last in the three-way race for job approval.

How to explain the likelihood that the Republicans will make huge gains on Capitol Hill next week? I’m not sure it can be explained. For instance, today’s New York Times reports the results of a poll it conducted with CBS News that shows next Tuesday will be a huge day for the GOP. Yet, bizarrely, the poll also finds:

[N]early 60 percent of Americans were optimistic about Mr. Obama’s next two years in office and nearly 70 percent said the economic slump is temporary. Half said the economy was where they expected it would be at this point, and less than 10 percent blamed the current administration for the state of the economy, leaving the onus on former President George W. Bush and Wall Street.

Those findings are everything Obama and congressional Democrats could hope for. The most you can say, though, is that voters will give the president an opportunity to dig out from the rubble they are about to dump on him next Tuesday. Strange days indeed.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. ben starr

    Odd analysis since you don’t address the underlying issues behind voter discontent – continued high unemployment with unpopular stimulus and HCR reform due to single party rule. Throw in repubs ability to control the message and Obama admin misreading ’08 election as a mandate and you have your answer.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ben: The whole point of my post — especially in the context of today’s New York Times/CBS News poll — is that the conventional wisdom regarding why the Democrats are about to be defeated is wrong. Read that excerpt from today’s story about the Times/CBS poll again. It simply doesn’t square with your analysis.

  2. BP Myers

    Setting aside what appears to be our national schizophrenia, I’m beginning to wonder if folks are beginning to come to their senses.

    For example, I heard this morning that Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in Florida, who was up by 14 points only a few days ago, is now up by only 7 to the newly “independent” Charlie Crist. Crist, of course, was pilloried by Republicans for having the temerity for being grateful to the President for economic aid to his state.

    If Republicans don’t pick up the House, it can only be viewed as another rebuke to them. Anything can happen.

  3. BP Myers

    Reading Ben’s comment, I’m reminded that it was not long after his first mid-term election that Ronald Reagan seriously contemplated not running again.

    Continued high unemployment, a tax cut policy that didn’t seem to be working, 20% interest rates, a vast expansion of military spending, all of which would see Reagan’s popularity rating plummet to 35% come January, 1983.

    Think perhaps a little perspective is in order. There is nothing new under the sun.

  4. The problem, I think, is a public that has been misinformed about the issues. The fault of a powerful negative campaign by Republicans and their corporate enablers (and a lack of a cohesive communications plan by Democrats). I also blame a mass media that has stopped reporting on issues and policy in favor of political infighting and the latest polls.

    The Republicans have done an amazing job channeling the economic anger of the every man toward immigrants, Muslims and the government when it should be directed at the real source of our problems: wealthy elites, free-market corporate policies and an unregulated financial industry.

  5. Donna Morris

    @George F.: I agree with your analysis. Well said.

  6. C.E. Stead

    @Mr. Snell – It’s just BARELY possible that most people don’t regard ‘wealthy elites, free-market corporate policies and an unregulated financial industry’ as problems even though Democrats are convinced that they should.

    DK – I’ve thought about this for a while, and I think it has more to do with the problems understanding the roles of legislators and the executive. It’s not an accident that so few Senators are elected President. Presidents in recent times have begun to call bills ‘theirs’. They want the credit for legislation, but sometimes buy the blame. Obama calls the health care bill ‘his’, but the reality is that Congress wrote and parsed the bill. Patrick has the same problem – ‘my’ pension reform bill, ‘my’ transportation bill. And when there are problems with these bills, the rebound upon the face who claimed it instead of the faceless institution that did the real damage. One of the reasons that Romney was able to abolish the hack-ridden MDC in his first months in office is that he didn’t depend upon legislation to do it.

    THAT is the true power of the executive – agencies and the promulgation of rules and policies. But Democrat executives look for love in all the wrong places. Current example – in the last year of his administration, Romney worked with ICE to set up a procedure to detain and hold illegal immigrants. The county sheriffs in Bristol, Barnstable and Plymouth went through special training and the county jails were identified as holding areas. This was all done through Executive Order, and literally the first thing Patrick did was to rescind that order. Baker has stated that he will reinstate it, and since the training has been done it goes into effect immediately. No Arizona-style legislation needed.

  7. Eric Mauro

    The methods of the federal government around the economy have been shown to be moribund. Essentially it’s (tax cuts/spending to stimulate) + (easy money from the Fed). I don’t know if anybody who writes the laws actually believes this works to get the economy going however. Both parties just use it to favor one constituency or another.

    Yes there is a generalized anger at whoever’s getting government handouts, but that’s not usually enough to win an election. Yes in reality people want the government to spend on the poor, the old etc. But with regard to the direction of the middle class spending by itself is no solution.

    Elections are not really personal… Making products and services that people want to buy is the only way to growth. The electorate as a whole knows what it’s going for, but it only has the choice of the candidates presented. The electorate wants a chicken, but the candidates are parrot and ostrich, which do you choose?

  8. Just remember – in 1944, 40 million Americans voted against FDR.

  9. Mike Benedict

    @ben: 2008 not a mandate? The Democrats absolutely destroyed the GOP in the election. A black man with a funny name gets elected over a white war hero — during a war. That’s as big a rebuke for one party (Republicans) as ever has been given. What other possible conclusion should have been drawn?

  10. Well, C.E., we can agree that people don’t regard those things as problems, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. When the top 1 percent collects 24 percent of the income they are a bigger problem than the decreasing number of illegal immigrants working below-minimum wage jobs. Especially when their tax rate is at historic modern lows.

    And anyone paying attention to the causes of the recession and the mortgage and housing crisis can understand that a lack of oversight and free market wheeling and dealing delivered a powerful body blow to the economy. Call me crazy, if you like, but working class people don’t have the ability (or the capital) to devastate the economy quite like we’ve managed to do. It takes the rich elites to do that.

  11. Brad Deltan

    @George: Ahhh, you just outed yourself as a Liberal. Liberals always think that if you just give people the facts, they’ll make the rational choice. This despite decades of election history and ample neuroscience that clearly demonstrates that people primarily make big choices…from purchasing a car to voting for elected officials…based almost entirely on EMOTION and then they use their intellect to rationalize the decision afterwards.

    That’s why Obama won; he made people feel good about, well, voting for Obama. It’s also why Hillary very well might’ve lost…despite all the inherent advantages ANY Democrat candidate had in 2008…because she just brings out the hate in a lot of people.

    It’s also why Republicans, particularly Tea Partiers, are poised to win and win big: people are ANGRY. They are fed up with a government that is strongly perceived to not only be ineffective (health care reform, job losses) but not “on their side” (again, health care reform, job losses – in light of huge Wall Street bonuses). Toss in that Obama got everyone’s hopes up…and whether we should’ve known better is a good point, but he shamelessly exploited those hopes, too…only to have them all come crashing down with a weak “win” (I use the term loosely) on healthcare, and a giant loss on bank bailouts (both cases where perception has far outstripped reality), and you just add more and more anger fueling the emotional lash-out.

    Personally, I think people are so angry and they’re not supporting candidates who are angry, too. Not per se. Subconsciously, they’re voting for the candidates that will actually do the most damage, under the idea that they are “striking back” at a Washington establishment that has done nothing but make their lives miserable. People don’t want candidates that’ll go in and fix Washington, they want them to go in and destroy Washington; smash it beyond repair in a petty emotional “revenge response”.

  12. Mike Stucka has a presidential approval rating tracker.

    I find it interesting how close Obama’s tracking to Reagan. Both, of course, promised a new vision at a time of a bad economy. It’s worth a look.

    Not all comparisons are the same. Reagan’s first midterm lost 26/27 seats to Democrats, and this time ’round the Democrats are expected to lose around double-that. The economy’s also been significantly worse.

    Anyway, did I mention it’s worth a look? You can see how other presidents fared in midterms.

  13. C.E. Stead

    @Mr. Snell – please note that I AM working class. Grew up in a three decker in Worcester, only went to college part time on Pell grants so never graduated, and began work right out of high school. Of course, now you can call me undereducated instead.

    But working class people DO pay attention, and sometimes reach other conclusions than your ‘we’ do.

  14. ben starr

    @Dan I think your premise is flawed based on most polling data. You seem to have hung your hat on a likely outlier, Newsweek’s survey.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ben: No. Not even a little. I wrote that the Newsweek poll seemed out of whack, and that most of what I had seen put Obama’s favorables in the 40s and unfavorables in the 50s. My two points were that those numbers are still far, far better than those of Congress, and that congressional Republicans have the worst job-approval ratings of all; and that a brand-new New York Times/CBS News poll showed that the very people who are about to vote for Tea Party candidates tomorrow have high hopes for Obama’s next two years.

  15. Robert Hughes

    George Washington wanted the people to do what political parties do for us!!!!!! Therefor we would have a nonpartisan political county public service. We are petitioning for this very service now. This county municipality has by-laws that put preconditions on those we elect through this public service. Those preconditions are determined by those people within that county. The by-laws are voted on with a person to run it. Contact me for more information

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