Democrats captured control of Congress in a nationwide snit of an election that left Republicans humbled and President Bush humiliated. But are voters happy with what they got?
The answer is no – not yet. It will take more than a power shift and a reshuffling of office space on Capitol Hill to satisfy most Americans. They want a new era of American leadership, and it’s up to the Democrats to deliver it. Voters are looking for politicians who are accountable, authentic and able to rise above petty partisanship to fix the nation’s problems.
Ethical, straight-shooting, civil and relevant – those are four adjectives that neither major party has earned in recent years. Tuesday’s election was less a mandate for Democrats as it was a political detoxification – anything but the status quo represented by Bush and the scandal-scarred Congress. Exit polls suggest that nearly six of every 10 voters said they disapproved of the way the president is handling his job, and most of them cast ballots for Democrats. Similarly, more than 60 percent of voters said they disapproved of how the Republican-controlled Congress is performing, and 71 percent of them voted Democratic.
Polling conducted at HOTSOUP.com, an issues-based community of grassroots opinion leaders, suggests that this crisis of leadership runs deep. More than nine of every 10 community members say government doesn’t work, their voice is not heard in Washington, and they don’t trust most political leaders. More than eight in 10 say no outcome Tuesday would fix the system and, looking to the 2008 presidential election, 90 percent say a “major overhaul” of politics is in order.
The problem doesn’t stop at Washington. Recent studies found steep declines in the public’s faith in all levels of government, as well as business, school and church leaders. The media is held in lowest esteem. It’s no wonder that nearly seven in 10 voters believe the nation is on the wrong track.
Tuesday’s election puts to an end the myth that there are no swing voters left in America. An analysis of exit polls from the 2004 presidential election reveal that while the percentage of ticket-splitting voters has decreased every election since 1988, there is a large bloc of voters – as many as a third of the electorate – that vote straight-ticket Republican or Democratic even though they are not philosophically suited for either party. Call them the Disenchanted Middle, ripe for the plucking by a third-party insurgency in 2008 or a candidate who reforms his or her party from within.
So here’s a little advice, direct from Tuesday’s voters to those who presume to lead them:
- Partisanship is part of democracy, but when it leads to gridlock, Americans get upset. They want action on Iraq, health care, education and other issues that affect their lives.
- Nobody expects Democrats and Republicans to sacrifice their principles, but a little civility in Washington wouldn’t hurt. Americans expect their leaders to behave at least as well as their children.
- Americans are better informed than ever and, after years of failed leadership, they are more than a little skeptical of politicians. So stop spinning them. They’re on to you. And they’re sick of it.
- While you’re at it, don’t lie, cheat or steal. Exit polls suggest that three-fourths of votes said corruption and scandal were important to their votes, and they were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates to the House.
Politicians with a future are already promising a new brand of leadership. Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a GOP presidential hopeful, said the typical politician thinks vertically, “and talks about things in terms of right and left. But the typical voter thinks horizontally. What they’re interested in is not party ideology but, “Are you going to lift me up or take me down?’”
Sen. Barack Obama, a potential Democratic presidential candidate, said he, too, has heard the message. “Here’s what I think the American people have said: They’ve said, ‘We’re tired of divisive politics. We’re tired of negative politics only. We’re tired of sharply ideological politics. I think they are looking for common sense solutions.” And, he adds, “We Democrats better deliver.”