Guy Benson

Have you heard about how much voters despise Congressional Republicans?  If you're a political junkie, you almost certainly have.  When the mainstream press grits its teeth and reports on President Obama's dreadful standing in the polls, many journos also include the corollary that Congress is even less popular.  The implication in many cases is that as unpopular as the president may be, Congressional Republicans fare even worse in the court of public opinion.  Elements of a new poll have fed this narrative.  A WSJ/NBC national survey released yesterday revealed that a majority of Americans would support removing every last existing member of Congress from office, and starting anew:
 

Need more evidence of just how unhappy the American public is with Congress?  Look no further than today’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll where 54 percent of those tested said that if they had the opportunity to vote out every single Member of Congress — including their own — they would take it.  Another piece of evidence that speaks to that unhappiness: 82 percent of people disapprove of how Congress is handling its jobs in the NBC/WSJ poll — the highest number in the survey ever; in the new Washington Post/ABC News poll 68 percent disapproved of how Republicans in Congress are doing their job.


Politico examines the numbers and identifies some additional problematic indicators for the GOP:
 

The public hates Congress — and, in theory, that ought to be a good thing for minority House Democrats in 2012. In theory.  Most folks, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, would purge all lawmakers from office — even the local representative. By a 58 percent to 31 percent margin, registered voters believe Democrats will do a better job of “standing up for the middle class,” according to a POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground poll. And in a third survey released Tuesday, conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, only 28 percent of respondents approve of the way congressional Republicans are doing their jobs.


And yet...
 

...Buried in the Journal/NBC poll is a contradictory nugget: Registered voters, by a 47 percent to 41 percent spread, would rather have Republicans in charge of Congress. That’s the highest level of preference for Republican control since the question was first posed 15 years ago. At a time when the White House is fond of the mantra that an election is “a choice, not a referendum,” it appears that voters aren’t ready to choose Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi over Speaker John Boehner.  The POLITICO/George Washington poll puts Pelosi’s favorable/unfavorable rating at 29 percent to 52 percent, while House Speaker John Boehner has a much closer 27 percent to 31 percent gap.  And generic vote testing, which historically favors Democrats, is about even: Democrats led 41 percent to 40 percent...


What lessons, if any, can we draw from this apparent paradox?  First, it's important to acknowledge that generic ballots can be misleading, and that we're still 14 months away from the next election.  Beyond that, though, there is a fair amount of promising news for conservatism in the data.  Even though precious few registered voters approve of the current GOP's job performance in Congress, and despite the fact that those same respondents give Democrats much higher marks on "standing up for the middle class," Americans still don't want to re-entrust the levers of power to liberals.  Americans may have misgivings about the GOP as it's currently constituted, but they're not interested in a reprise of the last four years, when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid controlled the nation's purse strings.  Speaker Boehner may not be Mr. Popular, but his predecessor and would-be replacement remains politically radioactive.

But what to make of the "kick-all-the-bums-out" poll that made a splash yesterday?  It seems clear that voters of all ideological stripes are deeply disaffected with Congress in general.  Put another way, frothing-at-the-mouth Lefties and fervid Tea Partiers are equally disgusted with Congress -- but probably for different reasons.  Independents are fed up over the bickering and lack of consensus, many conservatives are irked by Harry Reid's do-nothing Senate, and liberals detest the GOP-controlled House.  Throw in the leftists who are angry at Democrats for "caving" to the Tea Party, and Tea Partiers who are furious with Republicans for "selling out" to Democrats, and all of a sudden, Congress' awful approval numbers aren't all that surprising, let alone inexplicable. 

The important take-away is this: In spite of Americans' pointed distaste for this Congress -- and in light of their professed desire to root out every single incumbent and start from scratch -- their preferred replacement for the rejected status-quo is a Congress controlled by Republicans.  Not necessarily these Republicans (which may seem unfair to the numerous excellent elected officials currently serving), but Republicans nonetheless.  Neither party is likely to throw a party over this latest burst of abysmal polling. People are angry. Still, conservatives can derive some satisfaction from the fact that even if the country decided to expel Congress in a fit of frustration, and wipe the slate clean, they'd rebuild with a Center-Right Congress.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography