By Whitney Jones
Americans are losing confidence in their government, and this is being fueled by their frustration with partisan polarization, said a pollster at the semi-annual Union Forum March 16.
“We are at a point where people want Republicans and Democrats to lose,” said Scott Rasmussen, founder and president of Rasmussen Reports. “They want them both to lose at the same time. They just haven’t figured out a way to do that.”
In addition to his work on opinion polls at Rasmussen Reports, Rasmussen has been a frequent guest on major networks such as Fox News, BBC and CNBC. Rasmussen has also appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
Mike McGregor, executive vice president of First South Bank, introduced Rasmussen’s work as “reliable, newsworthy and actionable,” noting that Rasmussen Reports was the only source to predict the 2008 election results within a half percentage point.
Rasmussen said the government bailouts in 2008 ignited the political unrest. However, he warned against attributing change to a single event, noting that while Rosa Parks is given credit for beginning the Civil Rights Movement, the attitude that carried out the movement was present before she refused to take a seat on that infamous bus in Montgomery, Ala.
He also said people see problems and their solutions in society, like the economic decline and healthcare issues, before politicians do. Linda Shoaf, member of Union’s board of trustees, reiterated this point.
“People see the solutions more quickly than the government,” she said. “They really know what it is that may help them work. … People, if they understand the issue and what’s at stake, they are willing to sacrifice.”
American’s negative perception of the government is at such a high level that Rasmussen said when he polls people’s opinions on a popular issue, like social-security reform, the public opinion rating drops 20 percentage points when the question mentions Congress as opposed to only asking about the issue itself.
“When we talk about the frustration that’s out there, people don’t understand quite what’s wrong, but they also are getting the sense that nobody in Washington is talking about it in a serious way,” Rasmussen said.
He said the Republican and Democratic parties are not serving the American public well, and that the forum for debate is too polarized and filled with anger.
He compared the state of the public forum to a thunderstorm, stressing that the public opinion in America is actually rather stable and not affected by the harsh debate that goes on in the political sphere.
“In a rainstorm, when the rain comes down on the river, it’s pretty violent on the top … with all the water splashing around, especially in a heavy thunderstorm,” he said. “But a few inches beneath it’s very calm, and the current just keeps moving along like nothing’s going on up on the surface. That’s truly the way American public opinion is.”
As seen in the 2010 midterm elections, Americans are voting against the party in power. Rasmussen said people are voting this way because they are dissatisfied with the way the government has been run.
Rasmussen called the constant flip-flop in majority party a “fundamental rejection of both parties” and “a cry for help for somebody to present a different perspective.”
He said the ideals of the American people — hope and change — that President Barack Obama espoused, and on which he was elected, are still valued by the public. The people are just dissatisfied with the government’s actions.
“The American people want hope and change today just as much as they did in 2008,” Rasmussen said. “Now, they have concluded that if we have to rely on politicians for the change, well, there’s no hope.”
However, Rasmussen did end on a note of optimism and admitted that while the statistics and polls can be depressing, history shows that change can come quickly. He said another politician will step in, whether it is Obama or not, and connect with the voters.
Shoaf said she saw Rasmussen’s address as a call for generations young and old alike.
“I thought it was on-target and very relevant and has a message for both this generation and the younger generation,” she said.