Public disgust with Democrat-Republican party government is at an all-time high in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle. As more Americans identify themselves as Independents, will they walk the walk when it comes time to cast their ballots next year?
Americans have long held a low opinion of Congress. “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself,” wrote Mark Twain once upon a time. If recent polling is any indication, it appears that more and more Americans are coming to see the truth of Twain’s quip. A new survey from CNN finds that 70% of respondents do not believe most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected, and, more astoundingly, only 41% believe their own representative is worthy of re-election. The numbers came as a surprise to Keating Holland, CNN’s Polling Director.
"That 41 percent, in the polling world, is an amazing figure. Throughout the past two decades, in good times and bad, Americans have always liked their own member of Congress despite abysmal ratings for Congress in general," said Holland to CNN. "Now anti-incumbent sentiment is so strong that most Americans are no longer willing to give their own representative the benefit of the doubt. If that holds up, it could be an early warning of an electorate that is angrier than any time in living memory,” he continued.
Discontent is most high among Independent voters. 75% of Independents told the pollster that most members of Congress do not deserve re-election, compared with 74% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats who said the same. Independents held similarly negative views of their own Congressional representatives. 57% of Independents said their representative in the US House does not deserve re-election. 50% of Republicans and just 36% of Democrats said the same.
A separate poll by Rasmussen bolsters the numbers reported by CNN. The Rasmussen survey found that only 17% of likely voters believe the federal government has the consent of the governed, an all-time low. Just 8% of respondents said they believe the average member of Congress listens to constituents over party leaders, while 84% stated that our Congressional representatives listen more to their party leaders than the voters they are elected to represent.
This raises an obvious question. If a large majority of Americans believe Democrats and Republicans put their party before the people, and indeed, before the country itself, why do so many Americans continue voting for or otherwise supporting Republicans and Democrats? In response, one might answer rather simply that they don’t. In the 2008 presidential election, which saw the highest levels of voter turnout in over forty years, fewer than 57% of eligible voters cast a ballot. There were more Americans who opted not to vote than there were who voted for Obama. In the highly charged midterm elections of 2010, fewer than 38% of eligible voters bothered to show up at the polls.
What is an Independent voter to do? If you do not or cannot support the Democrats or Republicans, which appears to be the case for an increasing number of Americans, but there are only Democrats and Republicans on the ballot, when there is a choice at all, why even bother voting?
Consider the situation in Virginia, which holds its state elections in odd-numbered years. There are 100 members in the State House and 40 in the State Senate. This year, 62 seats in the House as well as 15 seats in the Senate are going uncontested, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. There is literally no choice in these elections. They have been reduced to nothing more than a formality. Fortunately for some, there are a handful of Independent candidates for the State House (seven) and Senate (four), but that likely does not provide much comfort to the majority of Virginians who will have no choice at all when it comes to choosing their representative for the State House.
If Independents desire adequate representation in government, as opposed to the automatic reproduction of the two-party political status quo, they are going to have to demand it by supporting alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats. 2012 is right around the corner.