A lot of smart people in Washington are getting very excited about Bush's low poll numbers, as well as new polls that show a possible landslide by Democrats in 2006. There's no question that public sentiment is turning against the President. But Democrats may want to temper this spring's optimism with a cautious reminder of how it felt to be carried away by Internet buzz and exit polls on the last Presidential election day. The really big question, it seems to me, is whether the Democrats think they can stand still and benefit from a landslide anti-Bush vote in 2006. That strikes me as highly unlikely. Sooner or later, they've got to take a position on Iraq, if they want to benefit from anti-war sentiment. They’ve got to take a position on NSA spying and on political corruption. Muted lip service isn't going to do it.
Chris Bower, consultant and blogger for MyDD.com, presents his argument for why Bush is in worse trouble than any President in recent memory. Bush's disapproval rating is close to 60 percent, Bower points out--worse than anything suffered by Clinton or Reagan at their respective low points. And his net approval rating is at the same level as Nixon and other failed Presidents. Furthermore, Bower told a gathering of independent media types this week in Washington, the number one factor in whether people vote appears to be whether or not they strongly disapprove of the current President. Factor that data in with the polls, and it all adds up to a landslide for the Democrats in 2006.
Bower's big point is that, while overall approval ratings are low for politicians in both parties, there are a number of overriding factors that favor the Democrats. Most of all, he argues, the story the media is missing is that the outcome of the next election will be determined by whether the Democratic base turns out to vote. When you look at the low approval ratings for both parties, it turns out that independents favor Democrats by 15 to 20 points over Republicans. The low approval ratings for Democrats come from Democrats themselves. In other words, if those folks hold their noses and vote, there might just be a changeover of power in the Capitol.
You can delve into the rest on Bower's blog.
Ruy Teixeira, of emergingdemocraticmajority.com, co-author of the book The Emerging Democratic Majority, shares Bower's rosy view of the polling data. "The Republicans are as badly off as the Democrats were in 1994," he says. What the Democrats need to do is nationalize all their local Congressional races. "The more people vote on Iraq, the worse for the Republicans," he explains.
Much can happen between now and next fall. Currently, there's little enthusiasm in Washington for the kind of barnstorming political message one associates with "revolutions," like Gingrich's 1994 takeover of Congress. Witness the lone-wolf censure effort by Russ Feingold, and the Democrats' rapid backpedaling.
Rather than be seduced by the numbers, which make political change seem to happen all by itself, the Democrats, if they want to win, would do well to seize the moment and try to propel themselves into power with a massive grassroots-outreach effort, not to mention a compelling message. They’d be fools if they let the polls convince them they don't have to make the effort.