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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The reality disconnect in American politics: new evidence

Some of my Republican friends have been unhappy with me lately because I’ve cautioned that this could become not so much an anti-Democratic year, but an anti-incumbent and anti-establishment one.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen’s latest Rasmussen Reports survey of public attitudes about Congress illustrates what is brewing. While Americans have been giving Congress historically low approval ratings for the past two and a half years – typically in the low teens – Rasmussen has found in recent months that a supermajority of Americans give Congress a “poor” rating – 71% in February and 64% in a new survey released this week. Of course, Americans love to bash the stupidities of Congress. From Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken to late-night comedians, political satire has been a staple of our popular culture. But voters’ attitudes seem to be moving from bemused (or fatalistic) resignation to something edgier.

The most fascinating finding in the Rasmussen survey is this: while a supermajority of Americans overall think Congress is performing “poorly,” 53% of Rasmussen’s group of voters described as the “political class” segment think Congress is doing a “good” or “excellent” job! These are voters who typically trust elites and the intentions and efficacy of government. (They also represent, according to a January 2010 Rasmussen survey, something like only one in ten voters.)

“Political class” voters are likely to work in the media or in the public sector (largely shielded by the convulsions in the private economy), or are active in party politics. They hold a much more sanguine view of the state of current affairs than do perhaps 90% of their fellow citizens.

When cultural elites and their fellow travelers hold widely divergent (and far more optimistic) views from the rest of society in a time of economic crisis, incendiary things can happen.