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Americans prefer Democrats to Republicans, prefer voting for Republicans to voting for Democrats

Kevin Drum highlights some of the results from the latest Washington Post poll:

blog_wapo_poll_2010_09_06.jpg

This is, of course, the lament of many majority parties facing midterm elections: If it was a choice, they'd win. If it's a referendum, they lose. But for all the dollars and messaging expended trying to make choices out of referendums, it never works. It's always a referendum. You'd need to radically shake up the election dynamics to get into something closer to a choice election.

Something like, say, Jon Alter's idea of scheduling debates between the president and the minority party's House or Senate leadership. This has been suggested before, of course, and people reject it as harmful to the dignity of the presidency. But that fear is based on a vision of the presidency that doesn't really exist today. Presidents are party leaders, and governance is a conflict between the two parties. The more midterm elections reflect that reality, forcing the president to defend his vision and the minority party to articulate their vision, the more useful they'll be.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 7, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

Well, that wording is a bit misleading. Assuming the President is debating the "minority" House or Senate leadership assumes that the President's party also holds one or both houses of Congress, which is frequently not the case.

That aside, I'm all for more public debates between our eleted leaders. We should have a lot more occassions where political leaders have to directly address the other side's points in a moderated environment rather than just taking to the Sunday shows or giving a speech. Still, I'm torn about whether it should be the President engaging with the opposing party's leadership or the legislative leadership of the President's party.

On the one hand, the President is almost assured to be the best speaker with the most commanding presence. Also, we increasingly live in a world where what happens in Congress is either action or inaction on the President's agenda rather than Congress putting together legislation by themselves and sending it to the coequal executive branch for signature. So it makes a certain sense to have the President involved.

On the other hand, I don't necessarily like that we lean so heavily on the President's agenda and I think it's a little unfair to lend the weight of the presidency behind a Congressional election in just that way. I know, Presidents go out and stump for their party and their party's candidates, and I don't really have a problem with that, but this feels a little different somehow.

But this is a really good idea generally. Though there's obviously a lot of nonsense involved in a presidential election, we also talk a lot about policy as well. What do the candidates have planned if they get elected, what their big projects will be, etc. We started talking healthcare because it was a big campaign issue and then it became a big national and legislative issue.

Somehow, though, midterms are just boiled down to "do we like the President as much as we liked him when we elected him, or now?" Usually the answer is "not" so the President's party loses seats. That's assinine. We should be asking the leaders of both parties what they'll do if they get the reigns for two years. Will the Republicans look into President Obama's birth. Will they try to impeach him? Will they defund the new healthcare law, and why? What will Republicans and Democrats do if the job situation hasn't improved by January? Midterms are obviously not quite as important as presidential elections, but they're pretty damn important, and should definitely be more than a popularity contest for the President.

Posted by: MosBen | September 7, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

This is just lazy poll reading. The first three questions are of "all adults." The final question is of "likely voters."

Posted by: ath17 | September 7, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Your poll doesn't support your title. Of the questions you highlighted, the only place that Democrats score outside of the margin of error is "which party is more concerned with the needs of people like you". They are virtually tied in terms of who Americans trust in coping with the countries problems and who represents each voter's personal values.

People also think that most Democrats (56%) and most Republicans (58%) in office today deserve to lose their seats.

If every member of Congress lost their seat this year, (54%) of the new Congress would be Republicans and (45%) would be Democrats. And that's almost exactly what the Likely Voter response was in question 13 (53% R - 40% D).

They want to vote the bums out. All of them. But they only get to choose between Democrats and Republicans at the ballot box.

Posted by: ericma | September 7, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Man, sorry for that wall of text. I also wanted to note that though we call them "midterms", for the House they're really not in the middle of anything. Every two years we decide if the majority in the House deserves another shot at running things or if it's time to let the other folks have a chance. Talking about them as "midterms" and having the President debate the other party's leadership just reinforces the idea that everything is about the President and what he wants. We should hear more from the leaders in Congress about what their thoughts and ideas are.

As Ezra says, party identification tells us more about an elected "leader" than almost anything else, and the President is the leader of his party, so there is some sense to having him involved.

The bottom line is that we should make a bigger deal about these elections beyond stupid horserace politics.

Posted by: MosBen | September 7, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Jon Alter has just been called "David Axelrod's stenographer" on talk radio. The "debate" is the latest idea from the White House. Obama will call Boehner "John" but he will have to call Obama "Mr. President." That's how they hope to gain advantage.

Posted by: truck1 | September 7, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

truck1, I have to say, I don't find statements on talk radio to be fairly persuasive. The difference in position betwen Boehner and the President is definitely an issue. But while on the one hand you're right that it would be tough for Boehner to match the authority of a President, the flip side is that it's possible the President would look diminished arguing with a minority leader.

Still, I think having a full and public debate on the issues would be a good thing. Like I said above, midterms are really just a presidential popularity election these days, and that doesn't help anyone. We should expect the parties vying for control of some portion of the government to fully articulate their plans and to engage with the opposing party's plans. Who knows, maybe we could get key law makers to concede points to each other and agree to work on certain issues on which puplic preassure would force them towards agreement.

Posted by: MosBen | September 7, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

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