Douglas E. Schoen, author of Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, released (click here) some findings of a poll of independent voters last month, this morning in the Wall Street Journal. While the results point favorably toward the Republican Party in this year's election, it shows strong dissatisfaction with the Republican Party as well.
Highlights: Independents, who make up 36% of the electorate and outnumber each of the two major parties, lean toward the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by 50% to 25%. In spite of this fully, 54% view the Republicans unfavorably compared to 39% with favorable views. And almost half (48%) are sympathetic toward the tea party movement. Perhaps most important, a huge percentage of independents (40%) are still undecided about their vote in the upcoming congressional races. Interestingly, independents rate President Obama favorably at exactly the same rate as everyone else: 43% favorable and 55% unfavorable.
The message is clear: independents are key to the outcome of the battle to control the House of Representatives. Expect both Democrats and Republicans to cater strongly to these voters for the next six weeks. What, then, do they want?
The poll indicates independents, like their Tea Party counterparts, want to decrease the size of government, cut spending and taxes, balance the budget, reduce the debt, decrease the power of special interest groups, and reduce partisan polarization.
Sounds just like a Republican, right? Then why the unfavorable rating for Republicans? Why the high undecided vote?
Independent voters (and many Tea Party advocates as well) appear to have decided that while Republicans talk about these things, when in power, they maintain the size of government, increase deficits, and cater to their favorite interest groups slurping for federal dollars. Instead of reducing, they shift spending away from social programs toward law enforcement, the military, welfare checks of one kind or another to the Fortune 500. The poster child for all of this is the personage of George W. Bush. Party operatives, using scientific methods, have gleefully diverted attention from these realities by demonizing Democrats, thereby polarizing the electorate even further. Republicans have thus impaled themselves on the sword of their own ideology: they have successfully convinced a majority of the public about the sins of "Big Gummint," but they have failed, when in office, to act as though they believed it. Democrats, on the other hand, beginning with President Clinton, have in practice slurped at the trough of the Fortune 500, eagerly seeking their campaign contributions, sucking up to their lobbyists, and ruling on their behalf, while maintaining the rhetoric, but no longer reality, of "being for the little guy." The richest 1% gobbled up the lion's share of all the new wealth America produced under Clinton, just as they did under Reagan, Bush, and Bush.
Thus, both parties have much in common, having created a system that privileges the salaries and perks of people associated with partisan activity at the Washington level) and each party, in its own way, speaks out of both sides of its mouth. Anger at this deceptive pattern has broken out in ways that currently favor Republicans, but only two years ago the anger was expressed against the disjointed, neurotic, and ostrich-like national Republican campaign, to the advantage of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. In previous periods of American history when both parties got hypocritical and essentially corrupt, it was outside agitation that moved the country forward: reform rarely comes from within a political party; only when a party loses does it wake up, and in a two party system when both parties go bad, third parties threaten the cozy status quo. This appears to be happening today in the ranks of the tea party movement and the independents.
In New Mexico independents do not outnumber Democrats or Republicans, and we usually lag behind national trends for an election cycle or two, except in the Albuquerque area, where John Barela's chances of winning Heinrich's congressional seat may well rest on his ability to activate the anger of the independent voter.