Unsatisfied American Voters Prepare to Re-elect Dissatisfying Politicians

The choose-your-doom game that is American politics continues to be one in which everybody loses. Voters don’t think President Joe Biden deserves to remain in office, but they’re really no happier with his leading opponent, Donald Trump. People consider Congress even less worthy of continued employment than the current White House resident but seem destined to keep most lawmakers in office, with only minor tweaks around the edges to a body that’s likely to remain largely unchanged.

Trying to predict political outcomes these days is best reserved for those who have a high tolerance for public humiliation, but it’s a fair bet that dissatisfaction will prevail through and after the upcoming election.

“Fewer than four in 10 U.S. registered voters say President Joe Biden deserves to be reelected, while less than a quarter say the same about most members of the U.S. House,” Gallup reported last week.

Those are impressively awful numbers, and you’d expect them to herald a changing of the guard. But Americans tend to be fickle in their contempt.

Congressional Race to the Bottom

“As is almost always the case, voters are more inclined to believe the U.S. representative from their own district should be returned to Congress, with 55% holding that view,” Gallup adds.

To put this in perspective, “the 24% who believe most members deserve reelection is lower than in all recent presidential election years except 2012, when 20% held that view in the late 2011 survey,” Gallup observes of Congressional approval numbers.

That should have indicated some sort of change in the offing. But in 2020, amidst withering scorn for the legislative branch, 90 percent or more of members of the House and the Senate who sought reelection won.

“Despite rock-bottom congressional approval ratings, voters reelected their incumbents at near-banana-republic levels in 2012,” Politico‘s Charles Mahtesian observed.

That didn’t improve anybody’s opinion of Congress, which is why the body still suffers low esteem (though its members’ self-esteem remains all too high) and we’re talking about this all over again. So, be ready for continuing low opinions, a year from now, of all the lawmakers voters will have just rehired because it’s everybody else‘s congressional representatives who they really hate.

Presidential Unpopularity Contest

But everybody votes for the same president (or, at least, for presidential electors), so you’d think the 38 percent support for returning Biden to office would cast a bit of a shadow over his chances. And it does, especially given that Trump, the guy he turfed out of office in 2020, enjoyed 50 percent support for reelection at this point and still lost.

But unless one or both of these antediluvian retreads shuffles off this mortal coil under the weight of passing years sometime between now and November, we’re in for a re-do of the 2020 election. And while few American voters see Joe Biden as worthy of a second term in office, Donald Trump stirs up no more enthusiasm among the voting public.

As of February 4, Biden enjoys 40.7 percent job approval (55.8 percent disapprove) in RealClearPolitics‘ average of polls. That’s not the worst number he’s suffered, but it is abysmal. It’s also nearly identical to the 40.8 percent favorability rating (54.5 percent unfavorable) for Trump in RealClearPolitics‘ polling average. Partisans of the major political parties are delivering the country an unpopularity contest between a guy Americans don’t think should be president and a rival they already fired from the position.

“Around 59 percent of registered voters are ‘not too enthusiastic’ or ‘not at all enthusiastic’ about a rematch between the presidents,” The Hill reported two weeks ago of Decision Desk HQ/NewsNation poll results about the looming battle of the political pariahs. “Only around 41 percent said they are ‘very enthusiastic’ or ‘somewhat enthusiastic’ about the rematch.”

“The public is not looking forward to a potential Biden-Trump rematch in 2024,” AP-NORC polling found before the holidays. “Fifty-eight percent would be dissatisfied if Donald Trump was the Republican nominee and 56% would be dissatisfied if Joe Biden was on the ticket for the Democrats.”

That’s not to say there’s no enthusiasm for 2020 nostalgia. After the New Hampshire primary, Biden aides told Politico they hope Trump is the Republican nominee. “Those aides believe that Trump poses a far greater threat to the nation’s democracy than any of his Republican rivals would. But they also feel the most confident about their chances in that looming matchup.”

Translation: Team Biden thinks Trump might kill the republic, but at least its stumbling entry has a chance to beat him! Unfortunately, the public will take the real beating from both miserable campaigns in the process.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

The country doesn’t have to punish itself like this with political selections that come pre-rejected. Reason‘s Matt Welch pointed out last week that 2024 presidential ballots will feature third-party and independent alternatives for those tired of playing a dreaded game of choose-your-doom.

“Most states’ ballots will feature at least five, maybe six” White House hopefuls, he wrote.

Unhappy voters could also shake things up in congressional races where, believe it or not, candidates who have yet to disappoint constituents (give them a chance) often throw their hats in the ring. Yes, 32 House seats went uncontested by either Democrats or Republicans in 2022. But that still leaves third-party and independent candidates in many cases, leaving at least some choice for the majority of congressional seats.

Except, again, Americans are most angry at everybody else‘s congressional representation.

The smart money says that, as disgruntled as Americans are with the country’s elected officials and those officeholders’ potential replacements, they’re not about to look beyond their usual menu of political options. That would require changing bad habits, which is harder than complaining. Voters may claim to be tired of the grim, old political game, but they keep playing by the same rules.