Bright and early on Monday, CNN released its latest results tracking public opinion on the federal government. Conducted by CNN and ORC International, a global research firm, the poll interviewed 841 American adults from October 18-20. This mix of landline and cell phone calls informed researchers that, by and large, respondents thought Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) ought to lose his speakership and that the Republican Congressional leadership is bad for the country.
Conducted immediately after the government shutdown ended, the poll makes for splashy headlines. The Washington Times uses the data to claim in a headline that “John Boehner must go,” while The Hill wrote about how the majority of citizens disapprove of House leadership for the country. But don’t take to heart that this means the speaker will be packing his bags or leaving office anytime soon; nor will Republicans be on their way out.
The poll only tells part of the story, and like other national polls, it is of little use in effectively evaluating the U.S. House of Representatives. To see why CNN and ORC International’s poll cannot accurately grasp the political picture of the nation, a closer look needs to be taken at the numbers and the reasons behind the shutdown.
On the first day of the shutdown, October 1, the National Journal compared the current Republican-controlled House to the group in 1995, the year of the last government shutdown. By comparing party demographics of the two, the Journal found that 2013′s Republicans are more secure within their conservative districts than those in 1995. National threats will mean little to these entrenched Republicans, because at home, they have a wellspring of support.
Traces of this are visible in the CNN/ORC poll. When respondents were asked who they have more confidence in, Congressional Republicans or President Barack Obama, 74 percent of self-identified Republicans chose their Congressional counterparts, while 87 percent of Democrats chose Obama. Turning to independents is of little help: 30 percent picked the capricious Congress and 34 percent favored the president, findings that are within the 5 percent margin of error for the question.
Even though all parties overwhelmingly disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, a whopping 87 percent of Republicans think Republican control of the House is a good thing, compared to 11 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independents asked the same question.
It is a statistical draw for Republicans on whether Boehner should remain speaker of the House, 46 percent favoring replacement to 47 percent opposing it. Further, the country’s wishes to see Boehner replaced do not amount to much, since citizens cannot vote on the issue themselves — members of the Republican caucus in the House do, and Boehner won unlikely allies there during the shutdown.
Former presidential candidate and outspoken Tea Party member Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) told ABC News that she believed Boehner did “a wonderful job” during the shutdown, and that she was “very proud” of his holding the party together throughout the impasse. Bachmann has often opposed Republican leadership in the House for a variety of reasons.
It is possible that within certain Congressional districts, the GOP will remain a favorable governmental entity. At the beginning of the shutdown, The Economist pointed to gerrymandering as an explanation as to why shutdown was not a political risk for some GOP members. Large-scale redistricting has allowed Republican representatives to create safe havens that maximize their numbers in the House, even if they do not win the popular national vote.
Gerrymandering is the practice of tailoring Congressional districts to a particular party, and redistricting usually occurs after a census is conducted. Taking the new population data into account, state legislatures redraw their state’s congressional districts, often in ways that favor the party in power. This can result in oddly shaped, confusingly mapped districts containing the dominant presence of one party.
The Economist reports that Republicans nearly perfected this in Republican-dominated states during the 2010 redistricting process. Wherever possible, Republicans were able to concentrate Democrats into specific districts while spreading their own supporters across several areas to guarantee a broad base of support.
Nationally, poll results indicate that the country is tired of the shenanigans pulled by elected officials, but this does not fully reflect how elected officials’ constituents view the matter. Support for the president and Congress falls along party lines. There may be overall dissatisfaction, but the polarization of American politics has not lost any steam as a result of the governmental shutdown.
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