A CNN poll released yesterday pointed to a congressional approval rating so awful, it was tempting to think there was a typo. The national survey found that only 10% of Americans approve of Congress, while a stunning 87% disapprove.
Ask Republican lawmakers about results like these and they'll generally respond by noting that Congress is always unpopular. By and large, that's true. But since the dawn of modern polling, the legislative branch of government has never been this unpopular. Worse, this poll was taken before Republicans shut down the government.
Fine, the GOP responds, but this only asks about Congress overall. Maybe Democrats are struggling with the public just as much as Republican? That's wrong, too.
I put together this image charting the results from a new national Quinnipiac poll, which shows Democrats taking a nine-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot -- an advantage that's steadily grown in recent months.
There is simply no good news for the GOP in the Quinnipiac results. Significant majorities oppose Republicans using a shutdown to go after the Affordable Care Act, trust President Obama over the GOP on most national issues, and blame Republicans for gridlock. In all, 74% of Americans disapprove of congressional Republican lawmakers -- their lowest score ever in a Quinnipiac poll.
Given all of this, there's one question hanging over Capitol Hill: does public disgust put the Republicans' House majority at risk? The answer isn't as clear as it should be.
It's tempting to think the House GOP is in huge trouble. They're about as popular as traffic jams and root canals; they have no accomplishments; and they have no interest in governing. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has reportedly "privately warned House Republicans that they could lose their majority in 2014 as a result of shutting down the government."
But as Rachel explained on the show last night, GOP policymakers have also rigged the game so that they're largely immune to the public's disgust -- thanks to gerrymandered district lines, the vast majority of Republicans practically can't lose, no matter how awful they are. They have to fear right-wing primary challengers, but for the party at large, that simply means trading one GOP lawmaker for another.
Nate Cohn added this lay of the land: "All considered, Democratic dreams of winning back the House still seem far-fetched."
This not to say it's completely impossible -- if House Republicans continue to generate excitement among progressive activists, Nancy Pelosi may yet become Speaker again -- but it's a very small needle that Democrats will struggle to thread, even if the norms of a democracy seem to point in the other direction.