By Brandon Greife, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Democrats spent the past year and a half building an impressive house of cards. Words like "hope" and "change" formed the foundation. Precariously stacked on top were legislative achievements like the economic stimulus package and healthcare reform. Looming over the unstable base sat two divisive party leaders in Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Atop the swaying tower sat President Obama. For a while he seemed capable of distracting everyone from the shoddy underpinnings of the Democrats' political house of cards. But over the summer the wobbling began. The ground-shaking passage of healthcare proved to be too much. The house appears to have collapsed.
Gallup, who released a poll on the party's favorability ratings, is the latest to survey the damage. According to the poll only 41 percent have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party. The results reflect a serious image problem for Democrats after a bruising and unpopular healthcare debate that could have serious consequences in the upcoming midterm elections. The Democrats favorable rating has fallen 9 percent in just seven months and represents "the lowest point in the 18 year history of the measure."
The collapse is historic for other reasons as well. Voters hold an unfavorable view of the party by a 54 percent-to-41 percent margin. It is unsurprising that at a time when record numbers of homeowners find themselves upside down in their mortgages, the Democratic party finds their poll numbers in a similar position. What is surprising, is that with the exception of an extremely brief period in 2005, this is the first time that the party's favorability rating has fallen into negative territory.
The problem is that their house of cards was built on messages of "change" and "hope." While these words make for great campaign rhetoric they make for an inherently unstable foundation. Everyone carries a different perception of change. Change in the abstract sounds appealing to all. When change actually translates into policy its benefits are interpreted from many different perspectives and through many different lenses. One need look no further than the healthcare debate to see that the Democrats' house of cards was constructed along a fault line that caused the entire political spectrum to rumble.
Barack Obama campaigned on healthcare reform. There was broad consensus that the reform was needed, but there many different variations on what reform should look like. In other words, change as a general idea was popular. Once details were introduced, support began to crumble. The Gallup poll reflects this fact. Up until last June, Obama and the Democratic Party received their highest level of support from both Democrats and independents. When the debate reached its peak in late summer the previously stable favorability ratings begin to ebb. Today, with the healthcare overhaul complete, opinion of the Democratic Party has fallen amongst all partisan groups. Even registered Democrats like their party less now than before.
The explanation is no doubt complicated. Some Democrats felt the reforms did not go far enough. Most Republicans thought it went too far. Some voters, especially younger age groups, disliked the stubborn commitment to passing a healthcare bill without a commitment to reign in government spending. Many others grew tired of seeing no increase in jobs, while seeing a continual increase in our national debt. Whatever the reason, it has created an enormous opportunity for the Republican Party. The Democrats' house of cards is collapsing. Shaken by a perceived failure to live up to everyone's unique definition of change, the balancing act at the top will grow ever-harder. As the Gallup poll shows, many voters are starting to flee. It will be up to the Republican Party to build a sturdier foundation. If the house tumbles down, we must be ready to build something in its place.