Do Drooping Poll Numbers Mean There’s A Revolt Brewing?

Liberal E. J. Dionne Jr. has noticed the drop in Bush’s approval ratings and is optimistically predicting a “Revolt of the Middle“against the Republican Party…

“But something important has happened since President Bush’s inauguration. America’s moderates may not be screaming, but they’re in revolt. Many who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. The party’s agenda on Social Security, judges and the Terri Schiavo case is out of touch with where moderate voters stand. Worse for Bush and his party, most moderates have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.

The moderates have rebelled before. This period in American politics is beginning to take on the contours of the years leading up to the 1992 election. That’s when Ross Perot led an uprising of the angry middle and Bill Clinton waged war on the “brain-dead politics of both parties.” Bush’s decision to read the 2004 election as a broad mandate for whatever policies he chose to put forward now looks like a major mistake. In fact, Bush won narrowly in 2004, and he won almost entirely because just enough middle-of-the-road voters decided they trusted him more than they did John Kerry to deal with terrorism.

The latest poll to bring home this message was released late last week by the Democracy Corps, a Democratic consortium led by pollster Stan Greenberg and consultant James Carville. Greenberg and Carville are not triumphalist. They are careful to note that “Democrats are not yet integral to the narrative” of American politics and that the decline in the Republicans’ public image “is not accompanied by image gains for the Democrats.” Democrats still have a lot of work to do.

When they were asked how they would vote if a congressional election were held now, Democrats led by 43 percent to 25 percent among independents, and by 57 percent to 31 percent among moderates. In 2004, according to the network exit polls, Kerry beat Bush by only one point among independents and by nine points among moderates.”

The biggest (but not the only reason) George Bush’s numbers have dropped is — counterintuitively — because of the wildly successful election in Iraq.

The primary issue George Bush and John Kerry duked it out on in 2004 was foreign policy and the Iraqi war. Bush was telling the American people to stay the course while Kerry — although his position on the war was all over the place — consistently argued that Iraq was about to implode, that elections should be postponed, and that Bush was screwing things up royally.

Then a funny thing happened: the Iraqi election in late January went really well — so well in fact that I believe that it settled the issue of Iraq in the American people’s minds. That’s not to say that everyone agrees with Bush’s policy, far from it, but it reassured the public that Bush had a pretty good handle on what was going on.

From that point on, Iraq started to drop off the radar screen and domestic issues — where Bush’s poll numbers were weaker all along — came back to the forefront.

And what’s happening on the domestic front? High gas prices are irritating the public and Bush has been pushing an unpopular Social Security plan that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for months now.

Meanwhile, the conservative base’s anger at Bush & the Washington GOP crowd over the deficits, illegal immigration, and their wimpiness over judges has come back to the forefront now that foreign policy and a desire to beat Senator Flip-Flop isn’t binding the Republican coalition strongly together anymore.

Basically, there’s just a lot of dissatisfaction out there. Democrats don’t like the fact that Republicans are running the show, Republicans are angry that the GOP isn’t acting conservatively enough for their tastes, and everybody else is just sick of the squabbling.

That being said, the Democrats haven’t come up with any hot new ideas to take advantage of the summer doldrums and if and when gas prices drop and Bush gets off of Social Security, I expect that you’ll see his numbers (and those of Congress) start to go back up. Furthermore, if the GOP pulls the trigger on the nuclear option and the Democrats actually throw a hissy fit that lasts a few months as expected, it’s likely their poll ratings will sink like they’re caught in the La Brea Tar Pits.

So I wouldn’t start looking for the “Revolt of the Middle” just yet or anytime soon for that matter. Of course, that’s not to say Republicans have nothing to worry about. Do keep in mind that when the American people are generally displeased with how things are going, they tend to take it out on the Party in power. Bush and Congress would be well advised to take note of that fact and take action especially on issues like illegal immigration, border security, deficit spending, gas prices (if at all possible), and judges (for the base)…

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