American Culture

Extrapolating to zero Republicans

Newsweek Bush PollBy Robert Silvey

All statistics are created equal, but some are more equal than others. Nevertheless, whatever numbers you consult, the rapid erosion in Republican power is undeniable.

Take that Newsweek poll to the right. Now that George Bush’s approval rating has fallen to 28 percent, we may calculate, as Mark Kleiman does, that the Bush swoon has been at a steady rate of 12 percent per year ever since we all went nuts with fear in September 2001. There was one significant uptick when Iraq was invaded, but then the drip-drip-drip of recognition resumed, as an average of one percent of voters each month saw the truth. Extrapolating from that trend, we may confidently predict that by January 2009 only 8 percent of Americans will approve of the outgoing president.

But Michael O’Hare calculates that the numbers are even worse for Bush:

When he went down 12 points from 80 to 68, it meant that about 15% of his supporters left the building. But the last twelve points, from 40 to 28, represents not only almost a one-third loss of his support, but loss from what were presumably the most dedicated fans among the starting group.

So the number of Bush Republicans may be zero by the time Barack Obama (with Republican votes) moves into the White House.

Similarly, I calculate that by late August enough Republican congressfolk will be ready to vote for troop withdrawal timelines, and Nancy Pelosi will have a veto-proof majority. How do I come to that conclusion? Simple. On April 25, the conference report on Iraq funding and withdrawal passed the House with 218 votes. On May 2, seven days later, the attempt to override Bush’s veto of that same bill attracted 222 votes; four House members changed their minds in one week. At that rate, it will take only 17 more weeks to reach the magic veto-killing number of 290. By August 29 (give or take 24 hours), two-thirds of the House will be ready to vote for withdrawal, and Bush will have no choice but capitulation.

Given the foolishness of such exactitude, it’s surprising that GOP House leader John Boehner came to almost the same conclusion. Yesterday he said, “By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B?” That’s pretty close—September! I’m almost tempted to think there’s more to such numerical fun and games than we thought.

To stay on the safe side, however, perhaps it’s enough to say that Bush’s support is crumbling, but we don’t know how many more Republicans will defect, or when. All else is wishful conjecture. It was Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi who pointed out the dangers of extrapolation (hat tip to O’Hare):

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. Barney and BushOne gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

All right. Let’s just say that now we have the wind at our backs, but that the wind could change. That Republican count may never reach zero—I’m sure Karl, Laura, and Barney will always remain loyal.

[Cross-posted at Rubicon]

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10 replies »

  1. You mean Plan B may no longer be, “Keep going with plan A”?


  2. That chart looks like a death ray from a sci-fi cartoon – Ooops, my Rorschak is showing …

  3. My general theory of this nation’s ideological swings is that the greater the fuck-ups by the party in power, the sharper the swing to the other party in 2-3 election cycles. Once the Dems start abusing their power the pendulum will start to change momentum again. My hunch is that if Obama is elected he will be level-headed enough to temper the democrats in their inevitable retention of Congress.

  4. I’m not convinced that Obama will be elected – I know too many people who, right or wrong, won’t vote for him because he has so little experience. I keep pointing out that there are more important things than experience (like being smart enough to hire people with experience to compensate for your lack thereof), but thus far to no avial. And the people who tell me they won’t vote for Obama are the same people who are demographically most likely to vote.

    Assuming that the Democrats take the presidency and retain both houses of Congress (a dangerous state of affairs), I’d trust Obama not to totally screw up the country more than I’d trust Clinton. I wonder if there is a different candidate whom I’d trust more, though.

    And I’m still hoping for a bipartisan, “unity” ticket with a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican teamed up. Which I’d want as President and VP would depend entirely on the two people involved, of course.

  5. I’m not convinced Obama will be nominated by the Democrats, but in the current atmosphere it seems likely that any Democrat will beat any Republican. And the fact that Obama was right about Iraq (uniquely among major candidates) calls into question the value of experience.

    I do think that Edwards would be a formidable candidate (and probably a very good president). He is the most progressive of the major candidates, especially regarding poverty (see Bob Herbert’s oped in today’s NY Times), but he has the most centrist image. Even my conservative West Texas relatives have told me that if he had been the presidential nominee in 2004, they would have seriously considered choosing him over Bush.

    It’s hard to imagine who among active Republicans has emerged sufficiently unscathed from the Bushian virus to be thought of as moderate. But even if, say, Christine Whitman or Chuck Hagel could do so, I see bipartisanship now as a sterile path that would keep the US from making the enormous changes required to reestablish the rule of law, combat poverty, reengineer the healthcare system, rein in militarism, and ameliorate global warming. It’s time for an FDR-style revolution, which changes the conversation while preserving the narrative of American ideals. That’s not likely to arise from a bipartisan ticket, at least not with any GOP candidate I can think of.

  6. Sometimes I hate the English language – it’s so easy to unintentionally mis-speak, and so easy for people to read what you write and interpret it exactly as you wrote it, although not as you thought you were writing it. There is a difference between “bipartisan” and “non-partisan” and I keep forgetting to use the correct term.

    What we need is a non-partisan presidency. I don’t mean independent, although that might also be required, but rather a presidency (and a Congress too, if that’s possible) that can work not only both sides of the metaphorical and occasionally literal aisle, but also work outside the normal partisan divides. We need someone who can bring everyone together from all sides, knock heads that need knocking and build the bridges that need building (or rebuilding). I don’t know that either party in the U.S. is capable of doing what’s really necessary to combat poverty, global heating, health care, electoral reform, terrorism, etc. They’re both too beholden to their various special interests. A bipartisan ticket might do the trick, but only with the right two individuals on the ticket. I’m hesitant to say that an independent ticket could pull it off, and an outsider ticket almost certainly couldn’t.