We all know the debate in Washington over budgets and Obamacare won't help Congress' anemic approval ratings - 80 percent of Americans in thesay the threat of a government shutdown, from either side, isn't an acceptable way to negotiate. But animosity toward Washington comes from frustrations deeper than unmet calls for compromise.
Consider this week's events in the context of the latest Census report, just out last week, that showed Americans' incomes and earnings have stayed flat, or worse, for years going back well before the recession; data that suggested the recovery simply isn't taking hold for most. When voters say the economy is their top priority - neither Obamacare, nor foreign policy specifically ever rank anywhere close on the list - this is why. Americans have budget battles of their own (and have no choice but to work them out).
The census showed that household incomes have remained stagnant over the last year and. But the story isn't even confined to just the last few years. For many in the middle, incomes are flat and an interesting Pew analysis of the data pointed out that in adjusted dollars Americans' household incomes are still about where they were thirty years ago. The report by Richard Fry said "median income has stagnated for the longest period since the government began collecting such data in 1967."
Americans often tell us they're fed up with Washington's inability to "do things" (read: show tangible results that help people lives) and with partisan finger-pointing. It's perhaps no coincidence this frustration with both parties takes place in a span when crucial economic measures have been so flat, and over a long course of time during which each party has usually held at least some power.
We've consistently seen Americans tell us they're running in place in our CBS News polls, too. Looking at our data going back to 2005, a few years before the current recession, the percent of Americans who feel their household income is enough to save and buy extras draws a very flat line. Only about one-third of the country says they have more than enough (and that group is consistently the higher incomes as one might expect.)
By comparison, the bulk of people - in so-called good times and in bad, and with a dip during the recession, describe themselves as having just enough to pay the bills and essentials.
This stagnation has only a mixed impact at the ballot box, which might help more broadly explain why neither party has been able to build a long-term majority coalition. If we take a quick look at it, in each of the last five Presidential elections the voters who've said they're doing worse than four years prior have broken against the incumbent party, to varying degrees. No surprise there. The "doing the same" voters are less predictable on this. They broke for Obama in 2012, for McCain in 2008, narrowly for Kerry in 2004, for Bush in 2000 and Clinton in 1996. So they're deciding based on other measures; also perhaps not surprising, if this is the new normal.
And yes, both Obamacare and the budget are intertwined with the economy and jobs. Policy analysts on either side will correctly tell you they affect both. But if we're talking about what moves public opinion and attitudes toward Congress, both parties know describing those connections can be something of a rhetorical bank-shot; that this policy item you're talking about is going to link back in such-and-such ways. Americans tend to rate the economy more directly in terms of available jobs and the ability to get one and get ahead. Over 25 years of trend of evaluations of the economy in the CBS News poll, when the national unemployment rate is up, ratings go down.
So, we'll all talk plenty in the coming days about who wins or loses the, the politics of it, and the legislative procedures of how things will or won't get passed. But we're also often reminded of the very real and long-term budget items in real voters' lives, ones that underlie their expressed frustration of what D.C. can and can't do about it, and the disconnect behind those approval numbers.