Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Time to Seize the Moment

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll contains some results that should be observed very closely by those at all points on the political spectrum, but are certainly most heartening to those of us in the center. The American people have had enough of the nonsense, and they're looking for leadership.

ABC News' analysis of the survey notes "For the first time most Americans, 55 percent, say Bush has done more to divide than to unite the country. A career-high 52 percent disapprove of his job performance overall, and, in another first, a bare majority rates him unfavorably on a personal level. Most differ with him on issues ranging from the economy and Social Security to stem-cell research and nuclear power. ...

These views are accompanied by a sense of alienation not just from the president but from both parties of Washington. Disapproval of Congress, at 54 percent, is its highest in more than six years, and six in 10 Americans say Bush and the Republicans, who control both houses, are not making good progress in solving the nation's problems.

About as many also say neither Bush nor the Republicans are concentrating on what's important to them personally. And the Democrats in Congress do just barely better: Fifty-three percent say they're not concentrating on the right issues either."

While the poll gives Democrats a slight edge in handling the nation's problems (46-41%), it also indicates that the minority party isn't using the "current discontent" to their advantage: 56% disapprove of the way both parties in Congress are performing. Among political independents, a shockingly high 68% believe that the current leadership is focusing on the wrong issues, and only 38% approve of Bush's job performance.

Obviously there is an important opening here. A wide majority of Americans are looking for real leadership on real issues that matter to them in their everyday lives, and they're not getting that from today's Republican and Democratic parties. Something's got to give, but what is it?

The current Republican leadership is quite strongly invested in the president's programs, and without a whiplash-inducing about-face from Bush and his congressional allies (which I'd love to see but consider exceedingly unlikely), regaining the support of moderates and independents in the short term seems beyond the reach of today's GOP. As ABC notes in its analysis of the poll, the best advice for Republican candidates in close races for the '06 midterms may well be to stay at a "respectful distance" from the president and the party's congressional leadership.

But do the Democrats stand a better chance at winning support based on these polling numbers? That isn't nearly as clear as some partisan Dem bloggers would have it. Ed Kilgore at NewDonkey and Armando at dKos both seem to think that these results indicate that a so-called "fighting Dem" strategy, reverse-polarization will bring the restive Center to their side. Kilgore goes so far as to say "while four of five Democrats think Bush is focusing on the wrong priorities, and nearly as many Republicans disagree, an astonishing 68 percent of self-identified political independents agree with Democrats on this question. And let's be clear: it's not that they worry about Bush's particular approach to this or that issue, or don't know enough about it - they think he's focusing on the wrong issues entirely."

Kilgore's analysis is, taken literally, correct. Sixty-eight percent of independents "agree" with Democrats that Bush and the Republicans are focusing on the wrong issues. That does not mean, however, that those independents believe that the Democrats' positions are the correct ones (remember, 56% disapprove of both parties, and only 46% of the total pool believe the Democrats are better able to handle the nation's problems).

The important lesson that Centrists (Republican, Democrat, independent and otherwise) should take from today's poll is this: polarization, to either extreme, is not what Americans are looking for. They want leadership on important issues like the economy and health care, and neither party is currently obliging. The moment is ripe for a bipartisan Centrist bloc to take control of the agenda in Washington and offer real solutions to the problems that Americans think about every day when they wake up.

It will take tremendous effort to persuade Congressional Centrists that this is their moment, that this is the hour when they can rise above partisan gridlock and change the face of American politics. But we must all begin to undertake that effort, to make our Centrist legislators understand that continued kowtowing to the extremes (left or right) will serve no useful purpose, and that only by striking out boldly to reform our broken system can they regain the confidence of the majority of Americans.

Centrists, this is our time. Let us make the most of it.


At 10:13 PM, Blogger EG said...

Don't forget oil. Americans see higher gas prices in their future and want Congress and the President to do something about it. So far, they're more concerned with judicial nominees.

At 10:41 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Thanks eg. I should have mentioned gas prices above, as well as climate change, education, and election reforms. Wide majorities of Americans are in favor of action in all of these areas; and instead, the Senate spends its time talking about judges and a poorly-chosen ambassadorial nominee.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Rove thinks he won the election by mobilizing the social conservative base. That was the verdict of instant-analysis but has not shown to be true once the numbers were better disected. Both parties did a great job turning out their ideological bases. It seems the election was decided by Centrist who drifted to Bush primarily because of national security issues.

Since turning out the social conservatives was Rove's big idea, I wonder if he's fooled himself into believing that really was the difference and that his party doesn't need the Centrists? Could be.

Dang I wish the Democrats would see the opening.

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Currently, Both sides of the aisle are more concerned with fighting each other than doing what they are in Washington to do. Partisanship has reached an all time low in my opinion, when Republicans and Democrats are more concerned with one-upmanship than actually doing any law making. That said, polls mean very little unless the questions are made public along with the results. I am sure you know that polltakers can get whatever answers they want depending on how they word the questions. If i asked, "Are you still beating your wife?" you are screwed no matter what you answer, if you are only permitted to answer yes or no. It is much the same way with polls that are taken by biased media. does the poll mentioned ask, "how much has Bush divided the country?" or "has Bush divided the country?" Just a thought.

At 11:09 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Mark: the questions are listed in the linked ABC analysis I provided. Here are some of those I cited:
- Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?
- Overall do you think Bush has done more to unite the country or has done more to divide the country?
- Do you think Bush is mainly concentrating on things that are important to you personally, or on things that are not important to you personally?

Alan: I'm not sure the leadership of either party's going to see this opening and run through it. We've got to get the centrists from both to take the plunge, I think.

At 1:47 AM, Blogger Mark said...

then again, it is also dependant on who the pollsters ask.

At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Dave said...

Republicans can find solace in the electoral, political, ideological, and financial disarray of the current Democratic Party. In both 2002 and 2004, Democrats tried to beat something with nothing. It didn't work. They appear prepped to try the same strategy in 2006.

The difference, of course, is that with the war on terror advantage gone for Republicans (receding as we get farther away from 9/11 and as Bush's missteps in Iraq become more apparent), the GOP probably won't continue to GAIN seats the way it did the last two times. In fact, if the election were held today, based on current polls, indicators, etc, the Democrats would probably pick up close to half a dozen House seats, 2-3 governorships, and hold the GOP to 55 seats in the Senate. This is actually good news for Republicans as they would still maintain solid control of Congress even at their lowest point and split the difference in the states with Democrats. If the GOP rehabilitates its image just a bit and Democrats do nothing by 2006, the GOP could actually gain Senate seats, keep the bare majority of state houses, and lose only 2-3 House seats. In other words, the GOP would get even stronger in the Senate and would still own everything.

And get this, if Arnold succeeds in redistricting Cali this year on a nonpartisan basis (erasing the Democrats advantage in the state due to gerrymandering), the GOP could actually net enough seats out of Cali in the House to offset any losses elsewhere and break even or actually gain seats. In short, the electoral mechanisms of this country are set in such a manner right now that it wouldn't take much for Republicans to pick up a couple of Senate seats, a couple of House seats, and hold the majority of state houses in 2006, all with an approval rating in the mid-40s. If that happens, the Democratic Party will implode.


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