Politics: Video

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May 1, 2011, 8:57 p.m.

A Fox News poll; con­duc­ted 10/9 by Pulse Opin­ion Re­search (IVR); sur­veyed 1,000 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.1% (re­lease, 10/12). Party ID break­down: 38%D, 38%R, 24%I. Note: Pulse Opin­ion Re­search uses “meth­od­o­logy and pro­ced­ures li­censed from” Rasmussen Re­ports (IVR).

Obama As POTUS

- All Dem GOP Ind Men Wom 10/2 9/25 9/18 9/11 Ap­prove 33% 67% 6% 23% 30% 36% 38% 39% 38% 39% Dis­ap­prove 58 18 92 69 66 52 56 54 57 55

(For more from this poll, please see today’s OH SEN and OH GOV stor­ies.)

The ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post and CNN/Opin­ion Re­search na­tion­al polls re­leased this week that show Con­gress’s job-ap­prov­al rat­ing drop­ping to re­cord low levels are barely cre­at­ing a ripple — be­cause the news is not new. With the ex­cep­tion of the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of ex­traordin­ary events like 9/11, the pub­lic routinely holds Con­gress in, as they say, “min­im­um high re­gard.” But now, the new norm is re­cord lows. Both polls showed that up­wards of eight of 10 Demo­crats, Re­pub­lic­ans, and in­de­pend­ents alike dis­ap­prove of the in­sti­tu­tion — an in­stance of rare agree­ment for three such dis­par­ate groups.

What is new is that in re­cent months, the long-held dis­tinc­tion between how voters see Con­gress over­all and how they view their own mem­bers of Con­gress seems to be di­min­ish­ing as well. An NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al sur­vey in Au­gust found that 54 per­cent of re­spond­ents would choose the op­tion (if it were on the bal­lot) to de­feat every single mem­ber of Con­gress, in­clud­ing their own. Only 41 per­cent would not do so. Now, routinely, when voters are giv­en the choice of reelect­ing their own (un­named) mem­ber of Con­gress or choos­ing to “give a new per­son a chance,” ma­jor­it­ies opt for the lat­ter.

One of the more un­for­tu­nate trends in re­cent years has been that Wash­ing­ton and the polit­ic­al world have in­creas­ingly looked at polit­ics and policy on a single lat­er­al par­tis­an or ideo­lo­gic­al plane, without con­sid­er­ing oth­er pos­sibly im­port­ant di­men­sions. Too many view everything on a left-right ideo­lo­gic­al ax­is or on a Demo­crat­ic-Re­pub­lic­an plane, view­ing every is­sue or de­vel­op­ment as a zero-sum game. If we can make the oth­er side look bad on this is­sue or sub­ject, we will look bet­ter, they reas­on.

Polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives and re­port­ers, cable polit­ic­al shows, and In­ter­net blogs tend to feed this tend­ency. Mem­bers of Con­gress gamely go along with it. Little ap­pre­ci­ation ex­ists for how much these at­tacks dam­age the in­sti­tu­tions or the pro­cess. Law­makers seem un­aware that they are also in­flict­ing dam­age on them­selves. The cu­mu­lat­ive im­pact of this mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion is that con­gres­sion­al ser­vice that used to be viewed back home as a ped­es­tal may start look­ing like a ditch; the ad­vant­age of in­cum­bency, in oth­er words, can be­come a dis­ad­vant­age.

When the Gal­lup Poll tal­lied up its 20,392 in­ter­views over the 2011 cal­en­dar year, it found that a re­cord 40 per­cent of adults called them­selves in­de­pend­ents. By com­par­is­on, just 31 per­cent iden­ti­fied them­selves as Demo­crats and 27 per­cent as Re­pub­lic­ans. Those people in polit­ics should con­sider how in­de­pend­ents re­act to this tow­el-snap­ping. Par­tis­an at­tacks and jock­ey­ing for a bet­ter po­s­i­tion may earn ap­prov­al from a party’s ad­her­ents. But the re­ac­tion of in­de­pend­ents is something else: They take a dim view of com­batants on both sides. Also note­worthy is that while Demo­crats hold a 4-point edge in over­all party iden­ti­fic­a­tion, when in­de­pend­ents are asked which way they lean, more of them point to­ward the Re­pub­lic­an Party than to the Demo­crat­ic Party — a new de­vel­op­ment as well. The Gal­lup “leaned party iden­ti­fic­a­tion” is now dead even at 45 per­cent, mean­ing that 45 per­cent call them­selves Demo­crats or lean that way, with an identic­al per­cent­age tilt­ing to­ward the GOP. The re­main­ing 10 per­cent are “pure” in­de­pend­ents. It’s a safe as­sump­tion that this 10 per­cent takes a dim view of both parties and both cham­bers of Con­gress.

Of course, so many dis­tricts are drawn so par­tis­anly that it takes a fer­tile ima­gin­a­tion to come up with a scen­ario in which many in­cum­bents lose reelec­tion. But that list of mem­bers who can pretty much do whatever they want shifts a bit from one dec­ade to an­oth­er as new lines kick in after re­dis­trict­ing. We will un­doubtedly see more com­pet­it­ive con­gres­sion­al races in Cali­for­nia in 2012 than in the en­tire last dec­ade be­cause an in­de­pend­ent com­mis­sion drew the lines, for­cing some mem­bers to clean off the cob­webs on their polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tions, to the ex­tent that they still have or­gan­iz­a­tions, back home. Oth­ers may be fa­cing a fresh set of con­stitu­ents. Will voters see their new mem­bers of Con­gress in the same way that they saw the old ones, par­tic­u­larly if they know next to noth­ing about them?

Will one-fourth of all House mem­bers seek­ing reelec­tion lose either their primary or gen­er­al elec­tions this year? Ab­so­lutely not. Will a fifth? Prob­ably not, giv­en that the Vi­tal Stat­ist­ics on Con­gress re­ports that the House’s low­est reelec­tion rate in the past half-cen­tury was 86.6 per­cent in 1962. But we could see about a tenth of in­cum­bents lose, an un­usu­ally high turnover rate, with some losses at­trib­ut­able to re­dis­trict­ing and oth­ers to the de­teri­or­at­ing en­vir­on­ment for in­cum­bents. While a tenth of all in­cum­bents seek­ing reelec­tion los­ing doesn’t sound like a dis­aster, it is cata­stroph­ic for the mem­bers (and their staffs) who come up short.

The big­ger toll, however, may be the grow­ing re­luct­ance of able men and wo­men to run for Con­gress. Al­though the House and Sen­ate will nev­er lack for am­bi­tious people seek­ing seats, will the caliber match that of the past? How many good people will opt not to seek a seat in an in­sti­tu­tion that has taken such a bat­ter­ing? Since the mid-‘80s, Con­gress has taken a furi­ous pound­ing, from with­in. How will that dam­age ul­ti­mately mani­fest it­self? The an­swer is not en­tirely clear, but no doubt it will.

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