Thursday, January 26, 2023


This data point in a new CNN poll isn't particularly significant, but it annoys me nonetheless:
Most of the public, 60%, expects congressional Republicans to have more influence than Biden over the direction the nation takes in the next two years. That’s similar to the 56% of Americans in January 2011 who anticipated that Republicans’ takeover of the House would give the GOP more sway than then-President Barack Obama, although expectations for Obama’s influence rose later in the year.
A total of 60% of the respondents think congressional Republicans will have more influence, while 39% think it will be Biden. That's a 21-point gap.

In January 2011, after the Republican takeover of the House, 56% of respondents thought congressional Republicans would have more influence, while 36% thought it would be Barack Obama -- a 20-point gap (although by May of that year, the numbers were 48% GOP, 44% Obama). And in January 1995, after Republicans took both houses of Congress, the gap was a massive 67 points -- Republicans 80%, Bill Clinton 13%.

However, after Democrats took the House in the 2018 midterms, the numbers in a January 2019 CNN poll were Democrats 47%, Donald Trump 40% -- only a 7-point gap.

This is one of the many questions pollsters ask even though they know respondents have no way of knowing the answer. So it's a silly question.

But what it reveals is the public perception of the parties' relative strength -- and I mean "strength" in a very crude way. When Republican majorities took over one or both houses of Congress in 1995, 2011, and 2023, the public believed by large margins that they'd the alphas in Washington. But when it was Democrats and Trump, the public's expectations were more mixed.

I see this as a game of ¿Quién Es Más Macho? The numbers for Bill Clinton were dreadful in 1995 because Newt Gingrich swaggered as if he'd become the real president of the United States and Clinton was a pretender. For a while at least, the public believed him. Republicans always swagger and boast and declare themselves to be the embodiment of real Americanism. Democrats -- even Obama and Clinton, who were much more charismatic than Biden -- don't swagger nearly enough. But Trump didn't act as if he felt humbled after the 2018 midterms, and that's why his numbers weren't as bad as those of the Democratic presidents.

I realize it didn't matter in the long run. Clinton and Obama regained their swagger and won reelection, while Trump ran again and lost. But I wonder whether Democrats could benefit from a little more party-wide swagger. The Republicans' swagger seems to make a lot of voters overlook the fact that the party is bad at governing. What could Democrats get out of a combination of swagger and seriousness?

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