The most interesting political trend from 2009 is the way that Nancy Pelosi has separated herself from Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner in net approval since the August tea party period. All four leaders saw their numbers tumble consistently from January to August. And three have seen a rise since the beginning of November (Reid’s rise coming in December). But Pelosi’s approval rating has skyrocketed relative to the three others.
It’s important to remember that all four leaders are unpopular. Pelosi, with a 42%-49% approval rating, only looks good by comparison. Her counterpart, Mr. Boehner, remains roughly as popular as a case of chlamydia (18%-62%). McConnell (18%-64%) is even worse off. And less than a third of respondents (32%) approve of the job Harry Reid is doing.
Yet, the trend lines tell a story. The Republicans have seen only two upticks all year, and they were during the August recess teabagging insanity and during the debate over the Senate Health Care bill (the House passed their version on Nov. 7th) when the Republicans were using every obstructive trick in the book. Clearly, the Republicans have found their only rewards when they’ve been maximally oppositional.
On the Democratic side, I’m guessing that Pelosi has benefitted from her ability to pass legislation while the country watched Harry Reid struggle to get anything done in the Senate. Yet, when Reid finally cobbled together the 60 votes he needed to pass the Senate’s version of health care reform, his numbers started to trend back up.
What can we learn from this? I think we can learn that (for the Democrats) the public rewards results and punishes failure, and that the Republicans get special treats only when their base is riled up into a frothing frenzy. This combination means that the GOP will not moderate in 2010. They aren’t doing all that badly on the Generic Ballot question and the Right Track/Wrong Track numbers are bad enough that the GOP can hope to win a good number of seats simply be maintaining the status quo. The Republicans remain so unpopular and powerless that their only chance is to prevent Congress from appearing functional and to hope their base will be fired up in November.
The Blue Dog Democrats who are most likely to lose in the first wave in the midterms should take a long look at these numbers and realize that the public is not responding to specific policies so much as overall perceptions of effectiveness. It makes little sense to run away from Pelosi. She’s the most popular leader in Congress.