Conventional wisdom suggests the 2010 midterm election was a referendum on the economy. That's not all it was. The public's distaste of Democrat-controlled government is much more profound.
Congressional approval is at a miserable 14 percent, according to the latest pre-election New York Times survey. This is less than half the 29 percent approval rating of the last Republican Congress shortly before it was voted out in 2006, and below the 20 percent rating of the doomed 1994 Democratic Congress. Congress under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never got above 35 percent approval, and that was back in May 2007. Disapproval rates were above 50 percent for the duration in all but one poll, with the negative view lodged steadily over 70 percent since February 2010.
More alarming to Mrs. Pelosi personally is the incredibly low regard in which she is held by the American people. She is currently at 15 percent public approval, up from 10 percent when she assumed the speakership. Her score never inched above 18 percent support.
Mrs. Pelosi was praised by the liberal chattering class for her “take no prisoners” style, but this authoritarianism was widely resented by moderates in her own party and contributed markedly to the bitter climate of partisanship on Capitol Hill. She bullied President Obama's legislative agenda through the House using a combination of threats and false promises. Several Democratic sources told The Washington Times that congressmen in competitive districts were ordered to commit electoral suicide on some pro-Obama votes and were warned that if they chose not to cooperate, they could forget having any post-congressional careers in Washington. It is small wonder that Mrs. Pelosi will go down in history as one of the least admired speakers, even inside her own party.
Disapproval of Mr. Obama's performance also played a role in yesterday's bloodbath. Shortly after he took office, only 15 percent lacked faith in his abilities as president. Now that number has grown to 47 percent, and most of the middle class has deserted him. Forty-two percent report their family's financial situation is worse than it was two years ago, the highest total reported in polls going back to 1994. The number of those who believed the next generation would be worse off than the current one was 38 percent when Democrats took over Congress in 2006; it has since swelled to 51 percent.
None of this means Republicans are particularly loved. Fifty-two percent hold a negative view of the GOP, compared to 33 percent at the time of the 1994 Republican congressional takeover. Fortunately, the unprecedented (since World War II) debt run up by Democrats is the No. 1 election issue, and dealing with deficits is one area where Republicans are overwhelmingly favored, as they have been in every poll except one outrider in 1988.
In January 2009, Democrats had a popular, charismatic president in the White House and the largest congressional governing majority in a generation. They mistakenly presumed to have a mandate to unleash a tidal wave of far-left changes on an unsuspecting public. The result has been monstrous debt, relentless regulation, mounting taxation and the general sense that the party in power was seeking every means at its disposal to reduce American freedoms and destroy the American dream. Democrats promised they would “fundamentally transform” the United States. As yesterday's election demonstrated, they have.