Pocketbook Politics

Faltering economy may lead voters to decide they really do need change

Democratic lawmakers were angry and disappointed when the bailout package was defeated in the House on Monday, but they should not have been surprised. The American public is feeling divided over the plan, and in a Washington Post/ABC News survey conducted Sept. 29, 45% said they favor a Wall Street bailout, while 47% said they’re opposed. Lawmakers have reportedly received record numbers of phone calls and letters from constituents who, by a margin of 200 to one in some cases, have expressed their opposition to the legislation. They’re mad as hell about the state of the nation’s economy and are deciding whether they’re willing take it anymore. And as they consider their own dwindling finances, they’re reconsidering which candidates will represent their best interests.

This year, experts agree, voters are expected to put their pocketbooks first as they cast ballots this fall. And it’s a scenario that doesn’t bode well for GOP lawmakers, who considered it when they didn’t deliver their share of the votes needed to help pass the bailout bill.

“While the party leaders were behind the proposal, Republican members are interested in their own prospects, and at least in the short term, public opposition to the bailout measure seems to be quite pronounced. In response to that, [members] are taking care of themselves,” says Michael Mezey, a DePaul University political scientist. Doing so comes with risks, however. “Those who voted against the proposal may suffer electoral consequences.”

Analysts say the economy is largely responsible for the GOP’s diminishing electoral prospects and the party looking very vulnerable. A Daily Kos poll of a generic congressional ballot conducted on Oct. 1 found that voters preferred Democrats to Republicans by a margin of 46% to 37%. Similarly, when voters were asked in an AP-GFK poll, conducted Sept. 27-30, if they preferred a Democrat- or Republican-controlled Congress, Democrats led by 49% to 36%.

David Wasserman, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, predicts that Democrats will gain between 12 and 17 seats in the House and five to seven in the Senate this fall. The economy was the top issue for voters before the crisis on Wall Street, he says, and Democratic challengers are “making the case that President Bush and Republicans have put oil companies and Wall Street first and that they’ve padded the coffers of the wealthiest in the country.”

RNC spokesman Alex Conant concedes that “it’s a tough environment for Republicans,” but says it’s more important to consider each race individually than to look at the nation as a whole and then try to draw lessons. David Bositis, senior research analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, disagrees. “Republicans are feeling fairly desperate and don’t see anything good happening in the elections this fall,” says Bositis. “There’s a good chance Democrats will pick up enough seats in the Senate that Republicans won’t be able to use the filibuster and that will be very bad for them.”

According to House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, pocketbook politics is also wreaking havoc

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