Voters Don’t Want to See Anyone Win

They “want to punish Republicans but not reward Democrats,” says one pollster. That’s the story of our current politics.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: (L-R) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak to the media at the White House on November 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Congressional leaders met with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss deficit reduction and other economic issues.
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Charlie Cook
Nov. 15, 2013, 12:49 a.m.

The day after Elec­tion Day 2012, the worst fear for many Re­pub­lic­ans was that the GOP’s prob­lems — in terms of the over­all party brand and its im­age among minor­it­ies, young people, wo­men, and mod­er­ates — would not im­prove. The biggest con­cern for many Demo­crats was that their suc­cess had peaked with Pres­id­ent Obama’s reelec­tion and that it would all be down­hill after that, most likely as a res­ult of second-term fa­tigue. (It’s worth not­ing that second-term fa­tigue has plagued al­most every second-term ad­min­is­tra­tion in mod­ern his­tory; Demo­crats were cor­rect in wor­ry­ing that the dy­nam­ic would once again come in­to play.)

Well, a year later, where are we? The Gal­lup Or­gan­iz­a­tion re­por­ted last month that the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing had dropped to 28 per­cent, down 10 points from the pre­vi­ous month. This is the low­est re­cor­ded fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing for either party since Gal­lup star­ted ask­ing the ques­tion in 1992. Sixty-two per­cent of re­spond­ents in the Oc­to­ber sur­vey viewed the GOP un­fa­vor­ably. The Re­pub­lic­an Party’s fa­vor­able num­bers have dropped 15 points since the Gal­lup sur­vey in Novem­ber 2012, from 43 per­cent to 28 per­cent, with un­fa­vor­able rat­ings up 12 points, from 50 per­cent to 62 per­cent.

Obama’s ap­prov­al num­bers have dropped 11 points, from 51 per­cent in Gal­lup’s polling at the time of last year’s elec­tion to 40 per­cent now. His un­fa­vor­able num­bers are up 11 points, from 43 per­cent to 54 per­cent. More telling, only 38 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans agree with the state­ment that Obama “has a clear plan for solv­ing the coun­try’s prob­lems,” just 42 per­cent say he “can man­age gov­ern­ment ef­fect­ively,” and only 47 per­cent say he is a “strong and de­cis­ive lead­er,” down 6 points from June 2012. On “hon­est and trust­worthy,” Obama has dropped from 60 per­cent in June 2012 to 50 per­cent now. Even on “un­der­stands the prob­lems Amer­ic­ans face in their daily lives,” usu­ally Obama’s strongest of the five char­ac­ter­ist­ics that Gal­lup tests, he’s dropped 4 points since June 2012, from 58 per­cent to 54 per­cent. Obama is “un­der­wa­ter” on three of the is­sue con­cerns — not to men­tion, he has an ap­prov­al rat­ing of just 37 per­cent on health care policy and 39 per­cent on both the eco­nomy and for­eign af­fairs. Clearly this is a pres­id­ent in a world of hurt. And with midterm elec­tions of­ten a ref­er­en­dum on the pres­id­ent, Obama’s pre­dic­a­ment is a ser­i­ous con­cern to Demo­crats on both ends of Pennsylvania Av­en­ue and in every state cap­it­al.

Any Demo­crat look­ing at Obama’s num­bers is likely to get de­pressed, just as any Re­pub­lic­an look­ing at the GOP’s num­bers will feel mor­ose. For Demo­crats — even as­sum­ing that the Health­ web­site gets fixed in the next month or so — the real­ity of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s prob­lems, which ex­tend bey­ond the tech­no­logy chal­lenges, are just now dawn­ing on them. Plenty of oth­er un­pop­u­lar ACA shoes are set to drop. Pub­lic per­cep­tion of the le­gis­la­tion has worsened, partly as a res­ult of the bungled im­ple­ment­a­tion. The pro­gram was too big, too com­plic­ated, and too ill-con­ceived, and it was pushed through too fast and is op­er­at­ing un­der a com­pletely un­real­ist­ic timetable. These factors help ex­plain why the Demo­crat­ic Party’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings have dropped since the last elec­tion as well, 8 points dur­ing that time, from 51 per­cent to 43 per­cent, with its un­fa­vor­able rat­ings up 6 points from 43 per­cent to 49 per­cent.

At the same time, Re­pub­lic­ans don’t es­cape un­scathed. The GOP can look for­ward to only more drama and trauma when the budget and debt-ceil­ing is­sues re­sur­face early next year. While party lead­ers cer­tainly hope the in­ev­it­able budget battle doesn’t in­flict as much dam­age to the GOP num­bers as the shut­down and debt-ceil­ing fights did in Oc­to­ber, it is hard to see how any­thing they do will re­pair their prob­lems with the pub­lic. In fact, it is un­likely that this Con­gress will ac­com­plish much that will change voters’ per­cep­tions. The Gal­lup Poll, for the first time in the 39 years it has asked the ques­tion, re­gistered a con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al rat­ing in the single di­gits, with only 9 per­cent ap­prov­ing of Con­gress’s per­form­ance. Dis­ap­prov­al stands at 86 per­cent, tied with two oth­er in­stances when it was at that level. At a time when it is in­cred­ibly hard to identi­fy any­thing that 86 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans agree on, dis­ap­prov­al of Con­gress man­ages to unite the pub­lic. To un­der­score the uni­ver­sal dis­en­chant­ment: The con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al rat­ing is 9 per­cent among Re­pub­lic­ans, 8 per­cent among in­de­pend­ents, and 10 per­cent among Demo­crats.

One Demo­crat­ic poll­ster re­cently (and aptly) summed up the sen­ti­ment: “Voters want to pun­ish Re­pub­lic­ans but not re­ward Demo­crats.” This dy­nam­ic sug­gests we are in for either a highly muddled elec­tion out­come next year — hardly the stuff for a wave, be­cause one party has to be re­war­ded and looked fa­vor­ably upon to cre­ate a wave — or a highly volat­ile en­vir­on­ment, what a met­eor­o­lo­gist might de­scribe as an “un­stable air mass.” The lat­ter dy­nam­ic could trans­late in­to a lot of sur­prise elec­tion out­comes, but not ne­ces­sar­ily in any uni­form dir­ec­tion.

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