There’s a school of political thought that divided government is the government that governs best. Put the White House in the hands of one party, and Congress in the hands of the other, the argument goes, and the two sides inevitably will have to come to the negotiating table to work things out.
Much like New Coke, or electing a faded reality television star president, it’s something that initially sounds good in theory, but tends to be utterly unworkable in practice.
Heck, sometimes it doesn’t even work when one party has control of everything.
Look no further than the Senate, where Democrats and the Biden administration essentially were held hostage by the chamber’s Dr. No, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and his frequent foil, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema.
Manchin, who may or may not be a Democrat much longer, wielded the chamber’s 60-vote rule like a cudgel, using it to derail legislation he didn’t like. Sinema, who has since announced she’s an independent, was often right there with him.
But with the re-election of Raphael Warnock in Georgia, the chamber is more or less in solidly Democratic hands. Republicans, who hold a tenuous majority in the House, are getting ready to take over the other side of Capitol Hill.
As a new Monmouth University poll makes clear, most Americans don’t think the House changing hands will make their lives any better. Nor do they think either party will do much to improve their lot economically.
Only 18 percent of the poll’s 805 respondents think Republican control of the House will change Washington for the better, while 21 percent say it will change for the worse. A majority, 51 percent, don’t see GOP control making much difference either way, pollsters found.
And before you go all ‘But Pelosi … ,’ public perception of Democrats when they assumed control of the House in 2018 was better than it is now, with 28 percent of Americans saying they expected to see a change in the way Washington worked, compared to 16 percent who expected a change for the worse, and 42 percent who said they expected no change at all, according to the poll.
“Some pundits look at these election results and claim that Americans want divided control. I think these frequent leadership changes are more a matter of chronic dissatisfaction with Washington,” Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray said in an email.
Just about a third of the poll’s respondents, 36 percent, think it’s likely that the new Congress will enact policies to help the middle class. That’s way down from the 58 percent who said the same thing when Democrats controlled both sides of Capitol Hill at the start of President Joe Biden’s term in 2021.
There was similar optimism when Republicans controlled Congress during the start of former President Donald Trump’s term in 2017.
In both of those polls, 8 in 10 partisans of the majority party, as well as a majority of independents, were optimistic about Congress enacting middle class policies.
Five years, one rough-and-tumble election, an insurrection, and a couple of brutal midterm cycles later, that opinion stands at 46 percent likely among Republicans, 34 percent among independents, and 33 percent among Democrats, according to the poll.
“Expectations for Washington getting its act together are very low when you ask Americans directly. They’ve seen this show before,” Murray continued.
None of the current crop of congressional leaders comes out looking very good in the new poll.
Retiring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approval rating was upside down, but before Republicans start crowing, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy fared even worse, with an anemic 12 percent approval rating, compared to 34 percent who don’t approve.
“Pelosi may have been a lightning rod for Republicans over the past twenty years, but she has clearly earned the admiration of her fellow Democrats,” Monmouth’s Murray said.
And McCarthy, who’s also fighting off an internal insurrection from his own conference, holds a narrow 29-20 percent approval rating among Republicans.
“McCarthy starts off as a blank slate for most of the public. It will be interesting to see if he can build the same kind of party loyalty as Pelosi – that is if he actually gets the chance to succeed her,” Murray continued. “McCarthy could end up as unpopular as [Senate GOP Leader Mitch] McConnell, but public disdain for the Senate GOP leader is due in part to his ruthlessness in holding onto power. It’s not clear whether McCarthy is made of the same stuff.”
So maybe there’s hope for a New Coke revival after all.
Copyright 2022 John L. Micek, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmic[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.