Americans overwhelmingly think that the government in this country is broken, according to a new national poll. But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released Sunday morning, also indicates that the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what’s broken can be fixed.
Eighty-six percent of people questioned in the poll say that our system of government is broken, with 14 percent saying no. Of that 86 percent, 81 percent say that the government can be fixed, with 5 percent saying it’s beyond repair.
The number of Americans who think the government is broken has grown eight points since 2006. “That increase is highest among higher-income Americans and people who live in rural areas,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but those are the groups that make up the bulk of the Tea Party activists today.”
The eight point spurt is an eyebrow raiser..or is it? Vice President Joe Biden has said that government is broken. And CNN is making this concept a major theme this week.
Additionally, if you follow the news at all, gridlock in Congress, the growth of paralyzing mega-polarization and breakdown of debate in favor of sound byte zingers and demonization, the fury of the Tea Party movement and more cerebral anger of Ron Paul supporters, the rise of the filibuster as a way to routinely checkmate anything proposed by a party that isn’t your own, you have to look at this poll and as a thoughtful analyist and say:
The key questions become:
1. If this is where we are now, and this continues, what impact will this have on our democracy? A return to Americans flirting with a third party (which has yet to translate into electoral victory on a national scale)?
2. How can the Democrats change it? Will they move heaven and earth to put their own factional and local political interests aside and begin to use their majority? Can they do that? And, if they do, what political consequences stem from that?
3. How will the Republicans benefit from that? If many perceive government as broken and Republicans start to feel consequences for their role in the two-party disease called gridlock, will this hurt their apparent upsurge in election chances? The GOP is on a tightrope: it’s regaining support as the Democrats appear ineffectual, divided and to some politically craven. But it still cannot win with only its existing support.
Can Democrats go to independent voters and say: Put us in in greater numbers and we’ll be even more effective than we’ve been during the Obama administration’s first tow years when we had a majority.
Can Republicans go to independent voters and say: Let us take over Congress because we helped produce so much good policy during the first two years of the Obama administration and just remember how great it was when we had total control of Congress
during the Bush years in the past?
Both parties’ arguments will be tough sells given current gridlock (except among their partisans). Because today, Feb. 21, 2010 you can indeed say that American government is indeed broken.
The old saying is: “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
We need a “fix.”
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.