Independents Hate Both Parties as Never Before…(‘Bout Friggin’ Time!…)
The recent wave of alienation could hit Democrats and Republicans alike in 2012. Will voters throw the bums out again?
By Ronald Brownstein
In the shadow of the bitterly fought agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, the independent voters who usually hold the balance of power in American politics are expressing astronomical levels of discontent with President Obama, Congress, and the Washington system itself.
This towering wave of alienation presages more volatility for a political system that has seen the public turn from Republicans in 2004 toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008, only to snap back toward the GOP with near-record force in 2010. Now, on several key measures, the public’s assessment of Congress is even more bleak than it was at this point in the last election cycle–even as Obama’s ratings have fallen to some of the lowest levels of his presidency, particularly among independents.
With each party hemorrhaging public support amid political polarization and economic stagnation, the implications for 2012 are complex and unpredictable. American history lacks a true example of an election in which voters turned out large numbers of incumbents from both parties, but to some observers that no longer seems impossible amid the declining support for both Obama and congressional Republicans. And while no serious independent presidential candidate has yet emerged, the numbers show an unmistakable opening for a Ross Perot-style outsider candidate who mobilizes voters unhappy with both major parties.
The stock market’s stomach-turning decline Thursday both parallels and reinforces the dismal verdict on Washington rendered in recent surveys: as the market Thursday tumbled almost as fast as the latest approval ratings for Obama and Congress, it seemed as if we were witnessing a simultaneous vote of no confidence from the public in both the American economy and its national government. On both fronts, the gathering gloom points to a wavering of national confidence certain to draw comparisons to the national “malaise” that undermined Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the late 1970s and provided the backdrop for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landslide.