What's the difference between party politics and reality television? Arguably not much, but here's one: In politics, even if the voters don't like the party contestants, they're stuck with them.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties are getting lackluster reviews from the public this summer, according to a Washington Post poll that tested their favorability ratings. Neither party was able to break 50 percent on the measure: 48 percent said they had a favorable view of the Republicans, and 46 percent had a favorable view of the Democrats.
In both cases this is 8 to 10 percentage points lower than the last measurement eight months ago.
The news is particularly bad for the Democrats, who haven't scored this low in at least a half-dozen years. (Republicans are a little more accustomed to minority support, having seen their ratings move into net negative territory as recently as 1999.)
Add to this the fact that Democrats seem to have disappointed their own following: In the poll, Democrats rated their party 13 percentage points lower than they did last December (72 percent, compared with 85 percent). The party also dropped among Republicans and independents, but by a somewhat smaller margin.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that the Democrats' intraparty discontent may come from its more liberal quarters. The center asked Democrats to rate the way their party was doing in "standing up for its traditional positions on such things as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working people."
Over the past two years dissatisfaction is up by 13 points, most of this stemming from liberal Democrats. Only 3 in 10 Democratic liberals say their party is doing well on this measure, compared with 5 in 10 conservative Democrats.
If it's any consolation to Democrats, Republicans have their own vulnerability in the Post poll: Their drop came largely from those valuable independents, 56 percent of whom viewed them favorably eight months ago, compared with 41 percent now.
Embattled Governors Forgo Reelection Bids
Compared to the bombast of California's recall election, it seemed almost quaint.
Two of the nation's more unpopular governors -- one in Montana, another in West Virginia -- who faced, at best, murky chances of being reelected next year, both announced last week that they would bow out of the 2004 contest.
Without any B-list celebrities calling for their heads. Or wall-to-wall television coverage. Or dark portents of what their decisions might mean for democracy.
Instead, West Virginia Democrat Bob Wise and Montana Republican Judy Martz made relatively subdued announcements underscoring their achievements, and even nodding at their missteps. Wise, a former House member, made his decision three months after first acknowledging that he had an extramarital affair. He said he could not simultaneously govern, campaign for what would have been a second term and tend to his family.
"I know I can only do two of the three well and give the effort they require," he said.
Martz, one of only six female governors, made her announcement after several public relations disasters. The most significant came in 2001, when one of her top advisers was involved in a drunken driving accident that killed the state's House minority leader.
Martz, who had been elected just a year before, later acknowledged that she washed her aide's bloodstained clothing before the police had a chance to claim it. She had said it was a mother's instinct to clean up.
Last week, she again referred to the incident. "Among the difficulties, we have dealt with tragedy and adversity, some self-imposed, some stemming from misperception, and some the result of staff," she said.
Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company