The Upside of Low Congressional Approval Numbers
by Todd Beeton, Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 04:40:02 PM EDT
The Democratic-controlled Congress and President Bush seem locked in a perverse competition for public unfavorability, according to a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
The survey shows Bush's approval ratings at 35 percent, and Congress' even lower, 25 percent. Only 27 percent of those polled said the country is headed in the right direction, and 39 percent said they support the Iraq war, with 58 percent opposed.
While Bush's favorability ratings have remained relatively unchanged for months, Congress' support declined markedly between May and July, a dip confirmed in a poll of 1,003 people taken last week.
The subtext of the narrative the Republicans and the media love to spin with this juxtaposition was summed up by concern troll David Broder, who confidently announced on Meet The Press in June:
I think [the Democrats] will suffer the same consequences that the Republicans suffered a year ago. People are fed up with seeing Washington bickering, fighting, in-fighting and never dealing with the issue.
Now, I'm not going to say I'm thrilled with these numbers, nor am I going to pretend they're entirely undeserved. It's actually quite depressing that our majority couldn't be more effective at curbing this president's radical agenda. But am I worried this mass unfavorability is going to cause Democrats to lose the majority? Hardly. On the contrary, it looks like it could even help them to build on it.
From an Aug. 3 Democracy Corps strategy memo (pdf) based on polling from the 70 most competitive Congressional districts:
The gridlock and partisan battles in Washington are hurting the Republicans, with no evidence here of lost prospective support for Democrats. Republicans own the mess in Washington as voters in both Democratic and Republican-held districts blame the President and Republicans more than the Democrats for the gridlock in Washington - by 19 and 13 points respectively. And this has electoral consequences. By 52 to 38 percent, voters in these battleground districts say the gridlock in Washington makes them want to see more Democrats elected to the Congress. That same dynamic is at work even in the Republican-held seats.
In other words, people get that the Democratic congress they voted for in 2006 was conditional on a Democratic president and/or a larger majority and 2008's their chance to finish the job. I'm not saying this to let ineffective members off the hook. In fact, this finding is actually an argument for Democrats in congress to be MORE combative, especially when it comes to fighting for Democratic values, which the polling suggests have majority support even in swing districts. The president and Republicans in congress are going to be intransigent anyway; they're going to paint Democrats as weak on terror and big spending liberals anyway; they're counting on Democrats not realizing there's an electoral upside to actually taking them on aggressively rather than cowering for fear of being accused of partisan bickering.