Poll: Americans: Hopeful, but Very Critical

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In the clearest sign yet that the 2008 elections will continue the growth of the anti-incumbent sentiment, a new Reuters / Zogby poll demonstrates Americans are extremely disappointed in current politicians, but, hopeful about the future. Logically, that sentiment portends removing more of the current politicians and bringing in new ones campaigning on change.

Let it be said at the outset, this poll does not measure how logical American voters are. Therefore, while logic dictates that if Americans wish to see their hopefulness fulfilled they will change leadership in the Congress and White House, this poll in no way measures whether voters will, in fact, vote out current politicians for new ones (except for President where there is no choice in the matter). Many pundits would argue that Americans look to a new president as fulfilling their hopes for the future and will continue to vote most Congressional incumbents back into office.

If they are right, voters would act illogically in doing so, since, the Congress is responsible for far more regarding American's future well being in their daily lives than the President. The President cannot change health care, insure quality education for children, drive down the cost of living, reduce or increase taxes, or improve quality of life without Congress taking the necessary legislative action.

However, approval of Congress is even lower, 11%, than for the President, 25%. If voters vote their disapproval, the 2006 anti-incumbent voting will be greater in 2008. In 2006, many analysts interpreted the election results not as anti-incumbent, but, as a shift from Republican to Democratic by that growingly powerful voting group called "swing" or Independent voters. Others argue regardless of the "swing", voters had to vote against Republican incumbents in order for Republicans to lose so many seats in 2006.

Given the even greater disapproval numbers toward Congress, and the greater number of Democratic incumbent politicians, it is difficult to circumvent the speculation that such disapproval will translate into Democrat incumbents losing seats in 2008. Difficult is not impossible however. Opponents of this view would argue that what was begun in 2006 in switching from a Republican to Democratic Congress, will continue in 2008, as voters seek greater distance from Republican resistance to Democrat's attempts to end the war in Iraq, deal with health care, entitlement programs, and border security - immigration issues.

The Poll numbers seem to support this latter argument, in part. Of those sampled, 43% said they would be voting in the Democratic Primaries, while only 38% said they would be voting in the Republican Primary elections, leaving 19% unsure. What remains to be seen however, is how many of these voters in the primary races will be voting for a challenger instead of the incumbent? Primary results will be watched carefully for this, since, if the anti-incumbent sentiment shows up in the primary results, attended by small voter turnout, the impact on the Nov. 2008 elections could be huge.

Independent voters who wish to express their disapproval of Congress, logically should do so in the Primary elections. For in the Primary elections, one's vote is most potent in removing an incumbent, while preserving one's party leaning (since far fewer voters vote in the Primaries). In other words, liberal leaning independents can remain faithful to the Democratic Party while still removing a Democratic incumbent from office, by voting for a Democratic challenger. Of course, the same is true of conservative leaning independent voters. It remains to be seen however, if voters actually think this way. Given the considerable visceral basis for American voting behavior of the past, it can be argued that American voters simply do not vote rationally, but, vote either for change, or keeping things the same; against the current party in office, or for it, respectively.

The independent voter however, is the fulcrum for the 2008 elections in both the Congressional and Presidential races. Party loyalist voters will establish the baseline, favoring Democrats these days as more voters are registered as Democrat than Republican, but the election results will be largely determined by the independent voters. Curiously, only one Republican candidate for President seems to understand this, Rudy Guiliani.

For it is only Guiliani who appears to be campaigning both for the primary and general election audience. All of the rest of the Republican candidates are campaigning for their base Republican voters either as a Bush lookalike, or rebel candidate (Ron Paul). That is to say, the rest of the GOP candidates are not campaigning to the independent swing voters who don't buy into the far right social, economic, or national security positions of the Bush led Republican Party. Guiliani on the other hand appeals to some independent voters as the in-between candidate liberal on social issues, and conservative on national security and economic issues, and to his Party base as the only GOP candidate capable of defeating the Democratic nominee.

With the exceptions of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, all of the Democratic candidates are campaigning both to their base for the Primary election and the "swing voters" for the general election by promoting cornerstone issues and policies of appeal to both camps of voters. If Congressional GOP and Democratic candidates are following their presidential candidate's path, Democrats are poised to gain more seats in Congress by virtue of this broader campaigning appeal to both party loyalists and independent voters.

The poll reflects that voters are optimistic that changing leadership in government will be good for the future. Sixty three percent of those polled said they were very or, fairly confident their children will have a better life than they do. Only 26% of these same people said, however, that the U.S. is headed in the right direction. This seems to clearly indicate Americans are seeking a change in leadership in government. The candidates who run on the "change" theme, and offer hope for the future in their stump speeches and debates, are more likely to appeal to the broadest group of voters. Not exactly a revelation. But, given the polling, it begs the question: Why are Republicans running on Bush's policies?

Even Guiliani, appears to fail to recognize the import of this polling data, since, his positions on economics and national security largely mirror President Bush's, and Americans have clearly rejected those, (Bush's approval ratings at 25%, less than the percentage of registered Republican voters). If this analysis holds up, it appears regardless whether Clinton, Obama, or Edwards is the Democratic nominee, America will have a Democratic President in 2008.

That prospect however, raises alarm bells for many independent voters, who have turned sour on one party government. All other considerations aside, the imbalance of open Republican seats outnumbering open Democratic seats in the Congress, indicates the Congress will remain in Democrat control. Independent voters hoping to avoid a one party government have two choices, vote for a Republican president, or vote for a Republican Representative and Senators. The numbers of independent voters who will reach this level of analysis regarding their vote however, will likely be small, and will prove insignificant to the general election results.

It is far more likely most independent voters will vote anti-incumbent and, or, vote Democratic in order to vote for change. In both cases, it appears clear from the analysis of current polls, that the 2008 elections will be a windfall for Democrats, and another one party controlled government. That said, it would be foolish with over 12 months to go, to place a money bet on the outcome. In American politics, the potential for unforeseen events which could transform election results always remains large and real. Another terrorist attack, an independent candidate for President, or an economic recession are but a few potential events that could change the election results of 2008.

Regardless of the results in 2008's elections, some things ironically are not likely to change without a monumental anti-incumbent vote. Campaign financing, the wealthy special interest bribery and control of lawmaking, increasing losses to competition overseas, and the refusal by Congress to decisively and effectively deal with the looming national debt / entitlement spending crisis will not change, without a wholesale booting out of incumbents from both the Democratic and Republican held offices. And the prospect of such a wholesale removal of incumbents is not yet in the cards for 2008. But, there is reason to hope, as long as the anti-incumbent option grows in the consciousness of the American voter.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on October 21, 2007 2:26 AM.

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