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What if the 2012 election doesn’t change anything?

at 12:27 PM ET, 10/11/2011

For months, politicians have been pointing to the 2012 election as a final judgment (or at least the next judgment) on what the American people want from their government and elected officials.


The US Capitol building at dusk on the eve of important legislation to keep the government operating, April, 07, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Do they want more government? Less government? Somewhere in between? That, politicians of both parties say, is what the 2012 election will tell us.

But what if the elections don’t tell us anything of the sort?

New polling from the Washington Post and Bloomberg News suggests that the public — and independents in particular — see little difference between the effectiveness of the approaches of the two parties when it comes to the economy and don’t expect things will change much (if at all) if a Republican is elected in 2012.

Fully 45 percent of those tested said that if a Republican were president currently the economy would be about the same as it is. (Twenty three percent said it would be better; 25 percent said worse.)

Among independents, the number is even higher with 55 percent saying that a Republican president would make no real difference to the current state of the economy.

It’s not just a pessimism about the where the economy is at the moment (and politicians’ ability to fix it ) though. There’s also widespread doubt that a changing of the political guard will, well, change anything.

Forty four percent of people said that it wouldn’t make much difference for their family’s financial situation if President Obama won a second term or if a Republican was elected. Among independents, nearly six in ten (58 percent) said no matter what happens in the 2012 there would likely be little change in their own financial situation.

Those are remarkable numbers and tell a story about the lack of faith that the public has in politics/politicians to turn things around on the economic front.

While they may know that the two parties have very different solutions about the best way forward when it comes to the economy, the public simply doesn’t believe that anyone in office can make a real change for the better.

That sentiment has borne itself out in each of the last three national elections — particularly at the House level where 2006, 2008 and 2010 each produced a wave dynamic, the first two favoring Democrats the last one favoring Republicans.

The wild swings in the electorate are directly attributable to a belief that neither party really knows what it’s doing and so once one side is given a chance for two years and nothing changes, voters — especially independents — are more than willing to give the other side a try. And then when that side produces few results, the cycle repeats itself.

What does all that add up to in 2012? Volatility. Again.

 
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