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Debt deal could be ‘Katrina’ for incumbents in 2012

By Kase Wickman
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 9:24 EDT
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Anger at the government is at an all-time high, and voter dissatisfaction over their lawmakers bodes ill for candidates. Though the 15 months until the 2012 election may seem like an eternity to some, the old maxim — those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it — is applicable, according to Robert Blendon, a public opinion and polling expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Blendon told Raw Story that if the poll numbers for congressional approval leading up to the 2010 election — which saw the balance of the House change — were lined up alongside today’s numbers, “it would look like the same kind of storm.”

“But it’ll be a little while before we know if Katrina will hit,” he said of the debt ceiling debate’s potential for a wave election in 2012.

Before the 2010 midterm election, Democrats were met with fairly strong public disapproval of the massive health care reform they passed, with an average of about 46 percent opposing it and about 38 percent supporting the overhaul.

Republicans picked up a total of 63 seats in the House in 2010. Public reaction to the health insurance overhaul can’t be prescribed as the only reason for the lost Democrat seats, but it was certainly a major campaign topic for the year — just as the debt deal is likely to haunt 2012.

The twist, however, is that while Democrats were the impetus for health care reform, neither party comes out clearly on top of the debt deal — Gallup poll results released this week show that a record-low 21 percent of respondents said that most of Congress deserved reelection. Another poll showed disapproval of Congress at 82 percent.

“It’s not clear who’s to blame” for the economy’s downward trajectory, Blendon said. “It’s clear that there is an anger out there and that all the voters can do is vote against incumbents. The one thing they can do is throw people out, and they’ll ultimately have to decide which party they hold responsible. It could be different this time, but it’s historically the president’s party.”

Though the 2012 election machine is in full motion already, Blendon pointed out that there is time to turn things around, and that voters typically take the six months prior to an election most into account. It’s whether things are perceived as getting better that is important, he said.

“Roosevelt was elected with 18 percent unemployment, but it was getting better,” he said. “It’ll be those six months, and whether things are getting better or worse.”

Other political analysts agree that the debt deal could color voter opinions for the worse when polls open, but that there’s time for change.

“Whatever frustration voters feel now could easily change during the next 15 months as a series of other events color their impressions and a changed context leads them to re-evaluate their current feelings and beliefs,” Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report wrote.

Nate Silver, author of New York Times‘ political forecasting blog FiveThirtyEight, also warned of the coming electoral storm: “Anti-incumbent sentiment is probably stronger now than at any point since polling began,” Silver wrote. “We don’t know exactly how that is going to play out, and to some extent we are in uncharted territory.”

Whether the impact of voter discontent will crush one party more than the other remains to be seen.

“At the end of the day, you only have two choices,” Blendon said. “Who are you most angry at and most let down by?”

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
 
 
 
 
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