Political Hay

Winning Washington, Losing America

Can Democrats make voters forget their anger at D.C.?

By 3.24.10

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Seven months is a long time in politics. Seven months ago, in August 2009, Democrats still held the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. Rep. Parker Griffith was still a Democrat, Rep. Eric Massa was still a member of Congress in good standing, and Sen. Evan Bayh hadn't announced his retirement. Seven months ago, it had not yet been reported that unemployment had reached a 26-year high of 9.7 percent. Ted Kennedy was still alive and even those who knew that "the liberal lions of the Senate" was at death's door had no inkling he would soon be replaced by a truck-driving Republican from Wrentham.

A lot of things have changed in seven months, but amid all the changes, ObamaCare has been reliably unpopular. In August 2009, 53 percent of likely voters surveyed by Rasmussen Reports opposed it, whereas 54 percent opposed it last week in the final Rasmussen survey before Nancy Pelosi rammed a "reconciliation" version of the bill through the House on a party-line vote.

Seven months and one week before Election Day, Democrats have begun declaring loudly that the one constant of the past seven months will change dramatically between now and Nov. 2. Unpopular as a legislative proposal, ObamaCare will be enthusiastically embraced by voters, we are assured by Democrats and their media friends, now that it is a fait accompli.

Already, the liberal press is claiming a "notable turnaround" of public opinion, in the words of USA Today's Susan Page, touting a poll that evidently offered respondents such suggestive phrases as "good first step" and "enthusiastic." Unlike the Rasmussen polls, which survey likely voters, the USA Today/Gallup result evidently comes from one of those "random adult" polls -- hardly a reliable tool for predicting election results.

Democrats seeking a forecast for Nov. 2 would be wise to ignore the cheerleading from their media friends and instead take a closer look at the poll numbers. Of the likely voters Rasmussen surveyed last week, 26 percent "strongly favor" the health-care bill, while 15 percent "somewhat favor" it. That 41 percent "favor" total was exceeded by the 45 percent of voters who "strongly oppose" the bill. Add another 9 percent who "somewhat oppose" ObamaCare, and opponents comprised a solid 54 percent electoral majority -- an overall 13-point edge for opponents. But it is the 19-point gap between "strongly favor" and "strongly oppose" that really casts doubt on any talk of a "turnaround" in favor of the previously unpopular proposal.

"The intensity is stronger among those who oppose the plan," as Rasmussen explained, despite the fact that most voters (64 percent) said they believed Congress was likely to pass the bill. "The disconnect between sustained public opposition to the health care plan and the belief it may pass may be one reason that just 21% of voters believe the federal government has the consent of the governed. This follows a similar disconnect on the bailouts, the government takeover of General Motors and other initiatives that were approved in the past year despite strong public opposition."

That "disconnect" between the governing class in Washington and American voters is invisible to liberal pundits like Time magazine's Mark Halperin, who predicted Democratic victory in November because President Obama will "bask once again in the glow of positive press coverage" in the wake of the health-care bill's enactment."

Whatever the political value of that media "glow," positive press hasn't stopped the president's approval rating from plummeting in the 14 months since his January 2009 inauguration, when he took office with a 44-point net favorability in the Real Clear Politics average. That RCP average is now near zero, but Obama's personal popularity will probably be irrelevant Nov. 2. The president won't be on the ballot and, in a year when polls indicate that Congress is scarcely more popular than syphilis, Democrats have the daunting task of trying to re-elect dozens of congressional incumbents in places where the president has never been especially popular.

Just yesterday, Sarah Palin announced that her political action committee will target 17 Democrats who voted for ObamaCare and who represent districts carried in 2008 by the McCain-Palin ticket. "Maybe when they join the millions of unemployed, they'll understand why Americans wanted them to focus on job creation and an invigorated private sector." And even Democrats who voted against the health-care bill may fall victim to an anti-Obama backlash, with a new "grassroots oriented" PAC called That Dog Won't Hunt taking aim at the so-called Blue Dog Democrats.

Prospects for a "notable turnaround" in the political outlook for Democrats are dimmed mainly by the failure of their stimulus-and-bailout economic agenda. Despite massive injections of deficit spending, unemployment will stay "painfully" high for years, one Federal Reserve official said yesterday. And the administration's claims that the health-care bill would create jobs must refer mainly, critics say, to the additional 16,500 new Internal Revenue Service agents needed to enforce the law's provisions.

Do media cheerleaders hailing enactment of the president's health-care plan as a "historic" victory for Democrats think opponents are now so demoralized they'll quit? Think again. The Tea Party Express is preparing a 20-day, 42-city tour, beginning Saturday with a "high noon" event in Searchlight, Nevada -- hometown of Sen. Harry Reid, who appears doomed to defeat this fall -- and ending April 15 with a Tax Day rally in D.C.

Seven months is a long time in politics, but it probably won't be long enough for Democrats to make millions of Americans forget why they're still mad as hell at Washington.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.