The battle played out in Washington as a tense confrontation between President Obama and Republicans in Congress. Each side assumed that, with the outcome, the other would bear the brunt of public dissatisfaction. Obama believed he would be rewarded for appearing open to compromise and for being the adult in the room. Republicans thought they would gain by showing greater determination to cut spending.
Instead, both sides lost — badly.
“The perception of how Washington handled the debt ceiling negotiation led to an immediate collapse in confidence in government and all the major players, including President Obama and Republicans in Congress,” McInturff wrote.
McInturff is a partner in a Republican polling firm, and one of the other partners is the pollster for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. McInturff and Democrat Peter Hart conduct the regular polls for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
McInturff’s analysis is based on polling and focus groups from Public Opinion Strategies and on survey data from others, including The Washington Post. It is not a partisan document. Instead, it is a sobering look at the state of public opinion in the wake of what McInturff describes as one of those rare events — like the Iranian hostage crisis, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or the collapse of Lehman Brothers — that has the potential to dramatically change the political landscape.
“We are entering a new phase of the American political dialogue that has been irrevocably shifted in a way that will prove difficult to predict,” according to McInturff. “Historically, though, this type of deep voter anger, unease and economic pessimism leads to unstable and unpredictable political outcomes.”
When I talked to McInturff about his analysis, he was reluctant to make predictions about how it would affect the 2012 elections.
“I didn’t cast this in a partisan way and say this is all bad just for Democrats,” he said. “You can’t have this kind of implosion in public attitudes and not think everybody in politics is affected.”
Certainly the findings underscore the vulnerabilities for Obama in his bid for reelection, but given the public’s unhappiness and unease, Republican incumbents should not take comfort from the state of public opinion. This kind of instability could lead to unpredictable developments, including the emergence of a third-party candidate next year.