With a Big GOP Wave, Americans Voted for More Gridlock—And They Knew What They Wanted


Foter / CC BY-SA

On election night, TV talking heads watching the Republican wave/surge/tidal flow across the country earnestly looked at each other and asked if the new Republican Senate majority can work with the president and overcome the gridlock that has so turned off voters. Umm…what?

Yeah, I know Americans keep telling pollsters that they can't stand "partisan bickering" and really hate Congress for its inability to get things done. But there's a strong hint that they're regurgitating sentiments that all of those right-thinking pundits tell them that they're supposed to mouth. After all, those same Americans just handed control of the Senate and an expanded House majority to the political party that has stalled the president's appointees, challenged his policies, and attacked him at every turn.

Could it be that, kumbaya language aside, the electorate likes to see government frozen in its tracks? After all, President Obama's personal approval ratings are also in the toilet, and his signature policy—the Affordable Care Act—continues to evoke a mass gag reflex from the public and was specifically cited as a negative by almost half of voters in this election.

So, if American voters don't like Congress, and don't like the president, and don't like the major piece of legislation that was produced when Congress and the president last worked together, what evidence do we have that the public is looking for more close cooperation between the executive and legislative branches?

In fact, polling finds that Americans think government is too powerful and too intrusive, with trimming back the size of the state popular among the younger voters that everybody watches so closely. And if you want to restrain government, divided government has a good historical record of achieving restraint by accident, if not as a deliberate policy choice.

Americans don't like gridlock? Maybe they think they're not supposed to like gridlock. But they just voted for more of it. And they may well know what they're doing.