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What Are Voters Angry About?

Political scientists understand that structural factors, mainly the economy but also things like wars and midterm elections, tend to drive voter behavior. Pollsters, on the other hand, have an unfortunate tendency to take public opinion purely at face value. And so you get results like this:

Only 28 percent believe the federal government is “working well” or even works “okay,” versus seven in 10 who think it’s “unhealthy,” “stagnant” or needs large reforms. By comparison, in December of 2000 — during the height of the disputed Bush-Gore presidential election — 55 percent said the government was working well or okay. ...

“The message is a big one,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “The message is, ‘We hate what’s going in Washington.’”

If you take this result seriously, then you have to think that the government really seemed to be working well in 2000, and that if we had the combination of Bill Clinton, Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert today, people would be about as happy as they were then. Alternatively, you could say that people said in 2000 that the government was working well because we were at the peak of a long cycle of prosperity, and that if Clinton, Lott and Hastert were running the show today, people would still be very unhappy and ready for change. I know which interpretation makes sense to me.