Voter Anger Simmers With Ramifications For `08
Apr. 12 – Robert Hirsch wonders where all the statesmen have gone. Ed Laliberte wishes politicians would stop bickering and start fixing the nation’s ills. Diane Heller says everybody in Washington is corrupt or out of touch.
“I don’t see any great leaders on the horizon,” says Heller, a Pleasant Valley, N.Y., real estate broker.
These voters are not alone. More and more, Americans are frustrated with politics as usual in Washington, where incompetence, arrogance, corruption and mindless partisanship seem the norm rather than the exception — a pox on both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Analysts say the public may be getting angry enough to give the U.S. political system a jolt, one way or another.
Voters could toss Republicans from power in Congress this fall, or turn the White House over to Democrats in 2008.
Maverick reform-minded Democrats and Republicans might shake up their parties.
Or perhaps voter unrest will fuel a credible third-party presidential campaign.
“There is certainly a lot of anti-incumbency out there and neither of these parties is doing swimmingly well,” said independent pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center.
His surveys suggest a throw-the-bums-out mentality is on the upswing, especially among independent voters.
“If they stop fighting and bickering and put the American people’s interests in front of where they should be, they could cure a whole lot of problems,” said retiree Laliberte, an independent voter in Bangor, Maine.
Nearly half of independents say the Democratic and Republican parties are equally corrupt. An AP-Ipsos poll in December found nearly 90 percent of all voters believes political corruption is a serious problem.
“I don’t see either party doing anything advantageous for the population,” said real estate broker Heller, a conservative Democrat. “I think the country is getting fed up. Big business is controlling everything.”
President Bush’s approval rating is at the lowest point of his presidency, and the public gives even lower marks to Congress. Republican and Democratic congressional leaders are held in equally low esteem.
“I’m not happy with either party on national security,” said Hirsch, a Republican-leaning businessman from Chicago. “We have a lot of politicians but not a lot of statesmen.”
While polls suggest more voters want Democrats to control Congress than Republicans, the Democratic Party’s approval rating is no better than Bush’s. A George Washington University Battleground 2006 survey in February found that 84 percent of likely voters believe lawmakers in Washington put partisan politics above all else.
Nearly 70 percent of the public believes the country is on the wrong track, a level of pessimism that rivals the nation’s sentiment in 1992, when Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy helped derail the re-election of Bush’s father, and 1994, when Democrats lost control of Congress.
“The mood is sour,” said Republican strategist Rich Bond.
“If some larger-than-life personality — let’s say Colin Powell — decided he wanted to launch a third-party candidacy for some office, I think he’d be an impact player,” Bond said. “But he’s not running.”
Bond said the recent third-party candidacies of Perot and Ralph Nader made it easier for future mavericks to gain ballot access. The organizing and fundraising power of the Internet also lowers barriers to third-party bids.
Still, it would take a special candidate. “You really have to have the proper mix of gravitas and quirkiness,” Bond said.
Who might that be?
–Sen. John McCain has the “credibility and stature” to make a third-party run, Kohut said. But the Arizona lawmaker insists he would run as a Republican, a self-styled reformer promising to change politics as usual. Some wonder whether McCain would bolt the GOP if denied the nomination. Not Bond. “He’s not the take-my-ball-and-go-home type,” Bond said.
–Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also could cast himself as a straight-talking, battle-tested leader, the type of politician who will be in vogue in 2008, analysts said. Whether that would help him win the GOP nomination as a moderate is open to question, as is his potential as a third-party candidate.
–New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could launch an independent presidential bid. The ambitious billionaire is raising his national profile as friends and associates privately muse about his potential as an outside-the-mainstream candidate.
Asked recently whether he wanted to be president, Bloomberg replied, “Which letter of the word `No’ do you not understand?”
These and other politicians don’t necessarily need to leave their party to take advantage of the public’s sulky mood.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is exploiting voter unrest inside the Democratic Party. His call to censure Bush has won favor with frustrated anti-war liberals who believe party leaders kowtowed to the White House on Iraq.
Still, Republican consultant Ken Duberstein said voters may be angry enough to support a third-party bid. GOP pollster Bill McInturff said a third-party candidacy depends on who Republicans and Democrats nominate in 2008.
If the prizes go to polarizing figures such as Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Newt Gingrich, the pollster said, “the gap in the middle would be pretty profound.”