Incumbents Face an Angry Electorate

Posted: Mar 29, 2006 11:17 AM

WASHINGTON -- If you think job-approval polls are bad for President Bush and Congress, take a look at the failing grades our elected officials are getting elsewhere in the country.

There has been a virtually weekly series of falling-polls stories in the national news media, all of them focused on Bush and Congress. But the dirty little secret is that the public's sour mood about the country's direction isn't confined to Washington. Governors, state legislatures and mayors are earning low marks, too, regardless of party.

"It's clearly not just a Washington problem. Not only are the polls down here in the nation's capital but in elected offices in the states," says Morris L. Reid, a Democratic consultant for a Washington-based communications strategy firm.

"People do not connect with what's going on in politics to their everyday lives," he said.

The pollsters agree, saying they are seeing deep dissatisfaction across the country at just about every level of government.

"It's a hard time to be in government right now. You are going into November with an unusually sizable number of weakened incumbents," independent pollster John Zogby told me. "It looks like you have two political parties this year that are hell-bent on losing."

While neither party can take solace in the numbers, there may be some perverse comfort for Republicans in the fact that many of the Democrats' biggest gubernatorial stars have run into political trouble.

"A perfect example is Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington state, whose disapproval level is 54 percent, with only 38 percent approving of the job she is doing," said David Johnson of Strategic Vision, an independent Atlanta-based polling firm that has been surveying voters around the country.

Typical of many states, Johnson said Washington voters aren't pleased with their legislature, either. "Their approval rating is in the 40s," he said.

Here's a sampling of what else he and other pollsters have found:

-- Wisconsin: Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's job approval score is down to 41 percent, and his disapprovals stand at 48 percent. Voters don't think much of the state's Republican legislature: 44 percent approve of the job it is doing, but 47 percent disapprove.

-- Michigan: Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whose state has been suffering from 6.2 percent unemployment, has seen her anemic approval polls rise slightly from 47 percent to 49 percent, but she still draws a nearly 40 percent disapproval score.

Granholm barely clings to a 2 percent lead (43 percent to 41 percent) over her GOP rival, business executive Rich DeVos, according to a recent Marketing Resource Group poll.

With General Motors eliminating thousands of local jobs, three out of four voters now say Michigan is moving in the wrong direction, MRG's poll found. That sets up the state for a possible GOP pickup, but voters disapprove of the Republican legislature by 51 percent to 40 percent, too.

-- New Jersey: Usually new governors are given a honeymoon by the voters and their polling numbers tend to be above average, but that's not the case with Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who took office this year. He has not been able to climb over 50 percent in either of Strategic Vision's last two polls.

The latest showed his approval ratings at 47 percent and his disapproval score at 30 percent. "That's not that great for a governor who has just come into office," Johnson said.

The Democratic legislature is getting worse grades: A whopping 59 percent of New Jersey voters disapprove of the job it's doing and only 31 percent approve.

Of course, Republican governors are in trouble, too. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, whose administration has been hit by scandal, has seen his approval polls plummet into the 20s. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's once highflying ratings have dropped into the 40s, with 47 percent now saying he should not be re-elected, according to the Field Poll.

Analysts say these plunging numbers out in the states are the result of economic uneasiness that transcends partisanship, but others see a deeper trend at work here.

"One of the things I've been saying for a long time is, we've lost faith in our government. The reason is that politics is not aspirational anymore," Reid said.

"The political process is not interesting to the American people," he went on. "It has become a turnoff to the average voter."

Still, while Republicans, the governing party in Washington, have seen a sharp drop in voter approval, that hasn't translated into increased support for the Democrats.

In his latest poll, John Zogby found that "only 6 percent of Democratic voters felt that Democrats should focus on getting a majority in Congress. Translation: What voters are saying to Democrats is, you don't have anything to say to us anyway."