Catch the next wave

Nine percent. That’s the approval rating of Congress in the latest CBS/New York Times poll from last week. 

While Congress is never popular, it’s never been this unpopular. Prior to the 2010 midterm elections, this poll pegged congressional approval at an anemic 18 percent. Terrible, to be sure, but not single digits. 

Prior to the 2008 elections, it was 15 percent. Awful, of course, but not single digits. And it was a robust 29 percent in 2006, when Republicans got tossed out of the House majority.

And therein lies the problem for today’s GOP House majority. How do you even begin to justify your continued majority if your approval rating is single digits? It gets worse — in a September edition of this poll, only 6 percent of respondents said that “most members of Congress have earned reelection,” while 84 percent said it was time to give someone else a chance.

And compounding the GOP’s problem, this rampant discontent extends to people’s own Congresscritters. This isn’t the years of yore, when people hated on Congress but liked their own rascal. According to that September poll, only 33 percent of registered voters thought their own representative should be reelected, while 57 percent want to elect someone else.

A set of Public Policy Polls last week for the House Majority PAC provided the first public broad-based look at individual House districts, and the results certainly support the “wave” theory. The Democratic super PAC looked at 12 House Republican incumbents facing tougher races following this year’s redistricting. In all 12 cases, the incumbent was well under 50 percent — showing that, at the very least, swing-district Republicans aren’t getting a pass from voters. That alone spells trouble for the majority.

Also problematic for the GOP? Independents are fleeing from the party. Polling by Democracy Corps finds that Republicans win independents by 7 points. That seems pretty good until you remember that Republicans won that cohort by 19 points in 2010. Similarly, Republicans won seniors by 21 points in 2010, but that advantage has been completely erased — they’re only winning that vote by a single point (45-46). 

Embracing Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE’s (R-Wis.) quixotic efforts to destroy Medicare hasn’t paid dividends. Neither have the party’s efforts to sabotage job creation to further damage President Obama.

While elected on a promise to focus exclusively on jobs, they’ve been sidetracked with social issues irrelevant to most Americans: trying to defund Planned Parenthood, attacking NPR, reading the Constitution on the House floor, investigating FEMA for effectively funding disaster relief, obsessing over Shariah law, attempting to reinstate “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” trying to pass the “light bulb freedom act,” targeting abortion rights, spending taxpayer funds defending the Defense of Marriage Act or wasting time “reaffirming” that “In God We Trust” remains our national motto. 

The GOP’s Tea Party base may love that stuff, but that’s also the reason Congress’s approval rating is 9 percent. Nine! The only thing people care about right now is jobs, and on that front, Republicans have no answers other than warmed-over appeals for more tax cuts for the 1 percenters.

And while Republicans have always been able to change the national debate at will, they suddenly find themselves in uncharted territory — with an Occupy movement setting the terms of the debate and focusing media on issues of inequality. When was the last time anyone talked about deficits?

The political ground has shifted dramatically since 2010. We’re headed for a third wave election in a row.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (