The 2006 midterm elections- even more decisive than we think.

July 1, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Yesterday’s coverage of the 2006 midterm elections on NPR’s All Things Considered immediately grabbed my interest. Like the major Democratic upset of 1994, polls show that the public feels extremely disillusioned with those currently running our government. This could lead to a decisive shift in the composition of the House, just as when the Republicans took control 12 years ago. This year’s election parallels the 1994 election in many other ways: voters that identify with the minority party feel more energized than those of the party in control, and independent voters claim they prefer the opposing party to the current majority.

That part doesn’t really surprise many people at this point, though it does invigorate me a bit to see Americans have actually paid enough attention to the legislature’s behavior in recent years to find it disturbing. The real surprise in this story lies in what makes this year’s election different from the one in 1994: voters don’t just dislike Republicans, they dislike Democrats too.

In 1994, dissatisfaction with the Democrats drove many to vote for the then-better-regarded GOP. But this year, polls by the Wall Street Journal and the Pew Research Center show that Americans have a marked distaste for both parties:

“The proportion saying the current Congress has achieved less than previous ones has climbed to 45%, double the number who said this in the 2002 or 1998 midterms, and higher than the number who expressed frustration with Congress in 1994 (38%). Republican leaders in Congress are blamed for this failure, but Democratic leaders in Congress are not benefiting from this criticism. More Americans disapprove than approve of the job GOP leaders are doing by a 53% to 30% margin; dissatisfaction with Democratic leaders is nearly as high (50% disapprove, 32% approve.)”-Pew Research Center, June 27, 2006

The current political climate also features a concentrated anti-incumbent sentiment, with 57% of voters claiming that they don’t want to see most incumbents make it back this time around. It seems that something very interesting will happen this November, though the mixed responses cannot tell us conclusively what. Americans seem to hate most of their candidates, yet they feel energized to get out and vote anyway. We haven’t seen this level of confused, almost stubborn contempt for political office ever before.

The implications of this upcoming election, however, have me even more intrigued than the forthcoming results. The Democratic Party, though surging in support, doesn’t have a cohesive direction or strategy. No news there. But for the first time in several years, the Republican Party doesn’t have cohesion either- consider the gaping split between the GOP and the President on issues of immigration, or between strong social conservatives and more moderate Republicans on the gay marriage amendment. Consider also the movement away from the mainstream media, via blogs, as Erich and I have both discussed recently.

This decisive election may mean more in the long term than it will in November. Have we entered a new era of questioning and demanding more of our government? More of our media? Or just of more discontent? If party dissatisfaction becomes the norm, and if both parties continue to suffer under their own internal disagreements, could an even more colossal shift come underway? The current two-party system in large part amounts to nothing but a lesser-of-two-evils choice to many Americans, a choice with which many have grown extremely frustrated. In the past, such voter disillusionment led to voter apathy, but here we see increased energy and desire for change. Could this destroy the already delicate fabric of the two parties,given time?

I cross my fingers and hope that the Republicans continue to have spats over issues of social conservatism and government scope, lest they shake a few Libertarians loose. I hope that voters select new, more liberal Democratic congress people who will take real positions on the crucial issues of the moment. I hope that the fervor over the environment and that partisan confusion turns some moderate Democrats into Greens. Any real shift will probably take decades, but as long as Americans continue to hold their congress people to high expectations, this country may just benefit from the mess it creates.

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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Media, Politics, Statistics, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    The general dissatisfaction with both parties reminds me of the "elephant in the room." I'm speaking of the corrupting power of money in our political system. I've written of this before.

    Because our representatives must raise large amounts of money, they tend to cavort with their contributors instead of paying attention to regular folks. And that’s not the worst of it. Special interest money fuels the dishonest and polarized political dialogues we so often hear. It commingles check-writing and political decision-making.

    The bottom line for me is this. I know quite a few people who I consider very smart. Not a single one of them has ever or would ever consider serving their fellow citizens as a governmental representative. They don't want to subject themselves and their families to the inevitable invasions of privacy and unfair abuse subjected by the big money wielded by opponents. Swift-boating is is something that we will only see more of, given how effective it was against John Kerry. My acquaintances also don't want to spend 50% of their time holding their hand out and making veiled promises to special interests–there is no other way to stay in national office in our thorougly corrupt political system.

    Given that most of the smart people of this country don't want anything to do with politics, who is left to run? A much smaller group from which we select our candidates. This is not to say that there aren't some worthy candidates in that group, but it's not many of our brightest and best.

    I think the voters are disillusioned by the quality of candidates. Instead of straight-talk by intelligent leaders they are getting so much utter BS that it isn't surprising that the voters are disgusted by both parties.

    Where it leads in '06 is a big question. I would hope that the Democrats can get their act together in order to sell Americans on a positively worded agenda containing something other than fluffy platitudes. I'm not optimistic, however. If the Dems make gains in '06, I expect that it will be because the Republicans have simply pissed off far too many voters.

  2. Erika Price says:

    I've heard the line before that, "No one smart enough to make a good leader would be crazy enough to run." In truth, the largely symbolic figurehead of an administration doesn't matter, so much as the grocery list of issues and the cabinet of assistants he or she takes in tow. It worries me MUCH more when we have congresspeople who know little about the issues on which they directly vote, because they face less overall scrutiny than the president, and have fewer helping hands. Their work seems largely presumptuous and misinformed at times, and they rarely have to feel heat for it. As long as they keep bringing pork legislation to their district, and as long as they pacify the interest groups on K street, they get off very easily.

    The encumbent advantage really testifies this. A President running for reelection doesn't usually have the almost ensured victory that most encumbent congresspeople have. Sure, a reelection President has an advantage over the competition in many cases, but most congresspeople can count on success, partly because of the reasons above.

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