Unlocking the Grid
One of the most contentious issues dividing political observers at present is how to interpret the partisan implications of the public's exceptionally sour mood, which extends to the Democratic-controlled Congress as well as the Bush administration.
The reigning theme among Beltway pundits is that Americans are sick of gridlock and partisanship in Washington, and blame both parties equally. There's a variant of this theme that's popular in some precincts on the Left: that the Democratic Congress's support is collapsing because it has been insufficiently confrontational towards Bush, particularly on Iraq; according to this analysis, cutting off funds for the war, or perhaps even moving towards impeachment of Bush and Cheney, is the only way to save Democrats from complicity with a hated status quo.
The other side of the argument has been carefully presented in the latest Democracy Corps strategy memo by Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Anna Iparraguirre. Relying on polling on both congressional and presidential preferences, including its ongoing "battleground district" research, the DCorps trio concludes that the partisan conflict in Washington is not eroding, and may actually be enhancing, a strong Democratic advantage going into 2008.
Here's their key conclusion:
Right now, Republicans own everything, including the gridlock, the direction of the country and Iraq. There is no other way to understand the rock solid stability of the Democrats’ current leads. We went to the bottom line and asked this question, ‘The gridlock in Washington leads me to want to see’ — ‘more Democrats elected to the Congress’ or ‘more Republicans elected to the Congress.’ We asked the same question but in the context of the vote for President. In both cases, the margin for the Democrats is at least equal to the current advantage in the vote. Rather than pulling down the margin, the current battle is confirming the desire for change in who leads in Washington.
Unsurprisingly, DCorps suggests that individual Democratic members of Congress--and a fortiori Democratic challengers of Republican incumbents--should not identify themselves too closely with Congress as an institution, since there's not much evidence at present that they are being held accountable for the alleged shortcomings of the congressional leadership. Indeed, it's interesting that the class of '06 of Democratic House members elected from previously Republican districts (as measured by "named" polling) seems, according to DCorps' findings, to be in significantly better shape than the Democratic presidential field (as measured by generic preferences). If that's right, then it reinforces the argument that the most important challenge facing Democrats in '08 is to ensure the presidential contest remains a referendum on the Bush administration as a reflection of what the GOP stands for, past, present and future.