The lowest approval rating of either party since Gallup started tracking it in 1992, lower even than the GOP’s numbers were after the Clinton impeachment. And if you click the last link and scroll down, you’ll see that the party’s unfavorability is conversely at an all-time high, a point above where it stood during the financial crisis in late 2008.
Two obvious caveats. One: National polls of favorability don’t tell you much about individual House districts, most of which are either solidly blue or red. And the news du jour rarely impacts public perceptions of a party so profoundly that it’s still affecting their brand years later. Look no further than the GOP rebound in 2000 in the graph above to see how quickly fortunes can change. It has, however, been a long time since Republicans crossed the water line of 50 percent popularity, thanks mostly to the Iraq-war backlash of Bush’s second term but persisting even through the big red wave of the 2010 midterms. Since they last saw 50, they’ve lost two presidential elections and lost seats in both the House and Senate in 2006, 2008, and 2012. Only during the initial ferocious backlash to Hopenchange three years ago did they gain. Party favorability certainly ain’t everything and maybe it ain’t even much, but it’s something.
Beyond that, the whole idea behind the “defund ObamaCare” strategy, I thought, was that risking a shutdown would draw public attention to the new health-care law, which would in turn boost opposition to it and generate a groundswell of discontent that eventually forced Obama to cave. Maybe that’s happening; there’s no way to tell since there hasn’t been a major poll taken on O-Care since the shutdown. But the fact that Gallup and other polls find the anti-ObamaCare party’s approval dipping lately isn’t an encouraging sign that that strategy’s working. For all the justified trumpeting of this morning’s AP poll that O’s approval rating had dropped to 37 percent, the fine print reveals that Congress’s approval now stands at … just five percent. What exactly is our pitch to Obama right now? That he should abandon his signature domestic achievement because his numbers are falling — even though ours are falling faster? That can’t be the “groundswell” we were hoping for. In fact, ironically, the worse the GOP’s numbers get, the more Obama may feel inclined to stand firm in protecting the law. The public may not like O-Care but they don’t like its critics either.
Two: People will say that the dip in GOP favorability is partly the product of Republican infighting rather than the wider public souring on the party. And, per Gallup, that’s true:
Self-identified Republicans are more than twice as likely to view their own party unfavorably (27%) as Democrats are to see their own party unfavorably (13%). The GOP’s unfavorable rating among Republicans is up eight points from September, compared with a one-point rise in Democratic Party unfavorables among Democrats. These findings may be consistent with the widely circulated narrative that the Republican Party is internally splintered on how best to handle the budgetary negotiations.
Independents, meanwhile, remain unimpressed with both parties: Thirty-two percent view the Democratic Party favorably, while 27% view the Republican Party favorably.
That’s encouraging in the sense that it means the broader popular backlash to the GOP is limited, not so encouraging in that it suggests an unusually deep split between disgruntled RINOs and conservatives. A divided party has its own problems (as we’re seeing vividly right now in Congress). Plus, if we’re going to question poll results by closely scrutinizing intraparty dissension, it’s only fair that we do the same to polls on ObamaCare itself. Opponents, me included, like to tout the fact that the law typically polls 40/55 or thereabouts, but buried in the crosstabs usually is the fact that a chunk of the opposition comes from liberals who think the law doesn’t go far enough. They want single payer, not The One’s insurance-industry boondoggle. How likely are those people to join a Ted-Cruz-led grassroots backlash against the law on grounds that it’s an unconscionable infringement on liberty? Even a devotee of national health care might balk at backing the defund effort on grounds that he doesn’t like the tea partiers who are driving it. In which case, the 40/55 figure doesn’t give you an accurate sense of the extent of the opposition.
Let me ask one question in all earnestness of people who support the “defund” strategy: Is there any conceivable set of facts that would led you to conclude that the strategy itself had failed? Obviously there are ways that it could succeed. We could get a bunch of polls tomorrow showing rising opposition to O-Care followed by the White House deciding that a one-year delay might not be a bad idea after all. That’s a win for Cruz and Lee and a loss for all the RINO skeptics. Conversely, though, if Boehner caves and passes a clean CR/debt-ceiling hike an hour before we’re due to hit the debt limit, that wouldn’t be treated by “defunders” as a defeat for the strategy, it would be treated as a sellout by Boehner and the RINO hordes, who refused to stand firm. Which brings me back to my question: What would have to happen for someone in the “defund” camp to say that the strategy, not RINO sabotage, was mainly to blame for failure? If new polls showed opposition to O-Care staying flat or even declining, would that do it (since it would prove that no groundswell had materialized)? Some people will say “If the GOP loses the House” next year, but that’s not true: That’ll simply be dismissed as the result of disaffected conservatives staying home to protest all the RINOs who broke their hearts again. So, again, what would be the proof that the strategy itself, not Boehner’s treachery, has been a mistake? Is this theory that good things will happen if we just hold firm falsifiable?
And if it’s foolproof, ironclad, 100 percent guaranteed to work, why was our “ask” so small? Why demand defunding ObamaCare instead of repealing it outright or, say, passing a balanced-budget amendment? Why not close down the government until Obama resigns? I don’t get it.