According to a new Gallup Poll, Congress’s approval rating has matched its lowest rating ever. Just 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76 percent disapprove. This is a staggering decline for the Democratic-controlled Congress, and it has occurred in only a matter of months. President Bush’s approval rating, at 32 percent, is considerably higher. It turns out that come this fall, he may well have the stronger hand to play.
The collapse in support for Congress tells us several things. First, the American people are in a deeply anti-political mood, and public officials who plausibly can tap into that sentiment and channel it in a constructive way will benefit enormously. The public is looking for a change-agent.
Second, the Democratic Congress has passed almost nothing of consequence; in the current environment, this is ruinous.
Third, Democrats are paying a high price for their hyper-partisanship. They appear angry, zealous, and vengeful, far more interested in investigations than legislation.
Fourth, Democrats are reinforcing the worst stereotypes of the party: weak on national security, in favor of higher taxes and larger government, and beholden to fringe groups.
Fifth, Democratic Party leaders, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are quite weak, both in their abilities to run the institution and as the public faces of the modern Democratic Party.
The 2006 mid-term election was viewed by many commentators as an enormous set-back for the GOP. While the results were about typical for a second mid-term election for the presidential party in power, they did not usher in days of wine and roses for Republicans, who trail Democrats on the generic ballot and in fund-raising. But Republicans have an opportunity. The anger that was directed toward the GOP is now being re-directed toward Democrats, who are finding that governing is more difficult than merely opposing. This may allow President Bush and Republicans to define themselves against the failures of the 110th Congress, just as Bill Clinton was able to define himself against the mistakes of Newt Gingrich (recall the government shut-down).
The congressional GOP is in desperate need of re-branding after years in power, when the fires of reform dimmed and died. The party now has an opening, one growing larger by the month. Once-cocky Democrats must wonder how things have come undone quite so fast.