How Crazies Are Destroying Your Party

New poll underscores public’s mad-as-hell attitude toward Republicans and Democrats.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (C), R-OH and National Security Advisor Susan Rice listen as US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Syria during a meeting with members of Congress at the White House in Washington, DC, September 3, 2013.
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Ron Fournier
Oct. 31, 2013, 4:47 a.m.

This is what hap­pens when the two parties rul­ing Wash­ing­ton lose touch with Amer­ica and pander to their crazy-ex­treme bases: Pres­id­ent Obama’s com­pet­ency and per­son­al­ity rat­ings are nose-diving, ac­cord­ing to a new NBC/Wall Street Journ­al poll; barely a sliv­er of the pub­lic thinks highly of the Re­pub­lic­an Party; and two-thirds of Amer­ic­ans want to re­place their own mem­ber of Con­gress.  

Peter Hart, a Demo­crat­ic poll­ster who con­duc­ted the sur­vey with Re­pub­lic­an Bill McIn­turff, called this a “Howard Beale mo­ment,” a ref­er­ence to the fam­ous rant from the 1976 movie Net­work.

“We’re mad as hell,” Hart said, “and we’re not go­ing to take it any­more.”

Privately, party strategists agree. On Obama, a Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive who works with the White House emailed me to say: “It’s his Ti­tan­ic mo­ment. He’s hit the ice­berg, but they keep act­ing like no wa­ter is com­ing in­to the ship.”

A GOP op­er­at­ive who also re­ques­ted an­onym­ity said that Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing on Obama­care high­lighted what’s wrong with his party. “We looked like we were beat­ing [up] the HHS sec­ret­ary,” he said of Kath­leen Se­beli­us. “Why do we have to al­ways overdo it?”

Like many oth­er party reg­u­lars, these two op­er­at­ives worry that hard­headed par­tis­ans are push­ing both the GOP and Demo­crat­ic Party away from the polit­ic­al cen­ter. The phe­nom­ena is play­ing out un­evenly (the GOP is ar­gu­ably more be­hold­en to its base than the Demo­crats) and for a num­ber of reas­ons, in­clud­ing hy­per-re­dis­trict­ing, the demo­crat­iz­a­tion of polit­ic­al money and the po­lar­iz­a­tion of the pub­lic it­self.  

But with each self-in­flic­ted Wash­ing­ton crisis, no­tions such as an in­de­pend­ent pres­id­en­tial bid, the dis­sol­u­tion of one or both ma­jor parties, and the rise of new polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tions seem less out­rageous. The think­ing goes like this: If voters today are more em­powered than ever via tech­no­logy (con­sider the dis­rup­tion of re­tail, en­ter­tain­ment, and me­dia in­dus­tries), how long will they wait be­fore blow­ing up the two-party sys­tem?

The the­ory plays out three ways in the NBC/WSJ poll:

1) Re­pub­lic­ans are blamed more than Demo­crats for this month’s shut­down, and are gen­er­ally held in the low­est es­teem. Their or­gan­iz­ing prin­ciple seems to be ob­struc­tion, even de­struc­tion, of the polit­ic­al sys­tem. The party is split between es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans and a no-com­prom­ise tea party.

  • Only 22 per­cent see the GOP in a pos­it­ive light, the low­est rat­ing re­cor­ded by NBC/WSJ, one of the most re­spec­ted polls in polit­ics.
  • Thirty-eight per­cent of Amer­ic­ans blame Re­pub­lic­ans for the shut­down, com­pared with 23 per­cent who blame Obama and 36 per­cent equally angry at both sides.
  • Only 17 per­cent of the pub­lic has a pos­it­ive view of House Speak­er John Boehner, the highest-rank­ing GOP elec­ted of­fi­cial. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing is just 11 per­cent.

2) Obama fares bet­ter than Re­pub­lic­ans, but his second term is en­ter­ing a danger zone fa­mil­i­ar to Pres­id­ent George W. Bush. At some point, voters stopped trust­ing Bush and es­sen­tially stopped listen­ing to him. While Obama has a bet­ter handle on his base than GOP lead­ers, he is overly in­su­lated by it. The pres­id­ent and his ad­visers rarely listen to ad­vice bey­ond the self-ful­filling kind. Rather than change the cul­ture of Wash­ing­ton as prom­ised, Obama is a cap­tive of it—in part be­cause his lib­er­al loy­al­ists have con­vinced him that that the mes­sage he rode to power was a lie. They help to des­troy his au­da­city to hope for change.

  • Just 42 per­cent of the pub­lic ap­proves of Obama’s per­form­ance, the low­est re­cor­ded by NBC/WSJ.
  • Likab­il­ity has long been Obama’s strength, but now few­er people view him fa­vor­ably (41 per­cent) than un­fa­vor­ably (45 per­cent).
  • Only 37 per­cent of the pub­lic con­siders Obama­care a good idea, versus 47 per­cent who see it as a bad idea.

The poll­sters at­trib­ute the dra­mat­ic de­cline to a series of set­backs, in­clud­ing the NSA spy­ing scan­dal, Syr­ia’s use of chem­ic­al weapons, the gov­ern­ment shut­down, and the failed Obama­care rol­lout. In each case, the pres­id­ent stumbled and dis­sembled.

3) Par­tis­ans in both parties will nev­er ad­mit it, but the pub­lic is put­ting a pox on both houses.

  • 74 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans be­lieve Con­gress is con­trib­ut­ing to prob­lems in Wash­ing­ton rather than solv­ing them.
  • Only 22 per­cent think the na­tion is headed in the right dir­ec­tion. Two-thirds be­lieve that the na­tion is in a “state of de­cline.”
  • Just two of every 10 Amer­ic­ans think the eco­nomy will get bet­ter in the next year.
  • Only three of 10 Amer­ic­ans are op­tim­ist­ic about the fu­ture of the U.S. polit­ic­al sys­tem.
  • A ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans don’t identi­fy with either party.

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.