Nearly six in 10 Americans say they are mad enough to protest. So, why don’t they?

August 6, 2014

A protester who opposes arrivals of buses carrying undocumented migrants for processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station holds a flag and watches counter-demonstrating Aztec dancers on July 4. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Five years ago, the tea party stormed August recess, serving notice that it would be a force in American politics for years to come.

Today, with another August recess just beginning, the American people say they're ready to take to the streets and raise hell at member town halls again. Unfortunately, they're pretty much all talk.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows fully 57 percent of Americans claim that something today upsets them enough that they would protest against it.

As yet, though, these would-be picketers don't appear to have settled on a cause celebre. Previous polling from CNN/Opinion Research showed there isn't even one issue that a majority of Americans see as very important heading into the 2014 election. Immigration is the issue of the moment, but every other issue has lost its currency in the minds of Americans.

The 2014 election is basically a muddle of issues, devoid of anything that could really even accommodate mass protests.

In addition, voter apathy has never been higher, with primary turnout continuing its long-standing decline this year. How many of the 57 percent of people who say they're mad enough to protest will be mad enough to actually vote for some kind of change?

No, this poll isn't a sign that Americans are preparing to make the August recess a living hell for members of Congress. Worry not, fair members, you're not about to become the next Arlen Specter.

As with lots of recent polling on Congress, what this poll does reveal is an American public that is very willing to express to pollsters its outrage at how poorly Congress is performing. We're still waiting for the day when that outrage translates into mass action.

It did in 2009 and 2010. There's no evidence of a similar movement building with less than three months to go in the 2014 election.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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