Nor should they. After all, voters have spent the last three elections making it very clear that they want a divided government in Washington; even while narrowly giving Barack Obama a second term, the House stayed in Republican hands. In the most recent midterms, a Republican wave gave them control of both chambers, and opposition to Obama and his agenda was clearly the determinative aspect. The Associated Press’ report of their latest poll makes it sound as if voters lament this outcome rather than mandated it:
Americans may not agree on much lately, but one opinion is nearly universal: There’s almost no chance that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican Congress can work together to solve the country’s problems.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds just 13 percent of Americans are confident the leaders, separated by nearly 2 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, can work together, while 86 percent have no such faith. That’s far more than the 58 percent who felt that way just after the 2010 midterm elections in which the tea party movement rose to prominence.
The doubts cross party lines: Fewer than 1 in 5 Democrats or independents have confidence the two sides can cooperate. Republicans are even more pessimistic, with just 1 in 10 confident Obama and Congress can work together.
Those who lack confidence spread the blame around: 41 percent say neither side would do enough to work together, 35 percent place more blame on the Republicans, 22 percent on the president.
Neither side holds much hope things are going to get better, either. Just 16 percent think the president is likely to restore public trust in government in the next two years, while 20 percent feel congressional Republicans will.
And … so what? This is the point that analysts miss when branding the not-outgoing-soon-enough 113th Session the “least productive Congress ever.” Republicans won a House majority in 2010 on the explicit promise to stop the Obama agenda, and they won the Senate and an even larger House majority last month by renewing that promise. If voters wanted a go-along-to-get-along Congress, they would have returned to single-party governance by handing Congress back to the Democrats.
Perhaps voters wanted some compromise in 2012’s election, which left the power structure essentially unchanged. Now they’re more resigned to the fact that Obama doesn’t want to work with Republicans and that the feeling is mutual. Who’s to blame? One measure might be applying a cui bono analysis to the midterm elections last month rather than looking for the answer in this poll. Hint: The benefit did not accrue to the Democrats.
The rest of the poll has more answers. Obama only gets a 41/58 job approval rating, his lowest since July and a 24-point shift in the gap from two years ago among the general population (52/45). His favorability rating has fallen to 41/46, the lowest level of approval listed in the data. On issues, Obama fails every subject on the report card:
- Economy – 41/57
- Unemployment: 44/54
- Immigration: 41/57
- Health Care: 41/58
- Foreign affairs: 38/61
- Managing the government: 36/63
- Political gridlock: 31/66
The two parties have almost the same level of trust from voters on most issues, with the splits within the margin of error. Democrats only muster a four-point edge on immigration after Obama’s declaration of unilateral action (30/26), which is about constant over the past year in this series. Democrats still get a 10-point edge on health care(35/25), again roughly consistent with the series over the past year. Republicans have a 14-point edge on protecting the country (18/32), again within range of results over the past year. Nothing much is changing except the worsening perception of Obama, both personally and professionally.
So yes, voters don’t expect much from Washington over the next couple of years. And that may well be a feature rather than a bug.