October 27th, 2005

Wrong Track, in the Extreme

by Philip Baruth

In this game, you can never have too much data. Ruy Teixeira, over at a blog called DonkeyRising, cannot be beat for broad, systematic polling results, and what he’s got up right now is eye-popping: wrong-track numbers that show the country in what amounts to a general state of rebellion. Says Ruy:

SurveyUSA recently released a set of fifty statewide surveys that show just how large the constituency for change is becoming. In each state, these surveys asked “In general, do you think the country is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” When combined and weighted by population, these surveys indicate that, nationwide, just 29 percent of adults think the country is going in the right direction and 66 percent think it is going in the wrong direction. But it is the state-by-state results that provide the really interesting findings. As the SurveyUSA report notes:

In not a single state do 50 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In only five states (Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska) do 40 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In twenty-five states, fewer than 30 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

There is also not one state where there is a net positive (right direction minus wrong direction) result on this question. And in every state that was even remotely contested in the 2004 election, there is now a strong net negative result on the question, indicating a big constituency for change.

I think “big constituency for change” doesn’t really capture it. What about “gargantuan”? Comparisons to 1994 have been popping up in the press for the last year or so, and I’ve always had my doubts, but these sorts of state-by-state surveys are beginning to change my mind. Putting aside the possibility of third-party candidacies, it’s tough to see how Democrats don’t benefit from the bulk of this momentum.

Some of the trend you have to chalk up to second-term buyers-remorse: when it dawns on Americans that they’ve reinstalled a President for four more long years, and that he’ll never have to face another election, they tend to get a bit surly. And Bush’s doomed policies — along with rising body-counts at home (Katrina) and abroad — have slowly forced the numbers down.

But this is larger and more sweeping even that that. This is the American people, significant rank-and-file in both major parties, realizing that they’re fed up with having all of the major functions of government in the hands of one party. That’s the key connection between 1994 and today. Not a weak president, although that helps, but the realization that checks and balances undergird our history and our way of life, and one-party rule invariably takes us down a nearly infinite series of wrong tracks.

Voters can’t do much about the Supreme Court. And they’ve got no say in the Presidency until late 2007. But for the next year, their power to affect Congress will be waxing. Remember that in 1994, no incumbent Republican lost an election. Not one. Republicans swept into control of both Houses. Will Democrats match that? Doubtful.

But will they flip the handful of seats necessary to take control of the Senate? Even the smart money says: Oh baby yeah.