Brandon Minster, Broadside Correspondent

In America’s perpetual electioneering, the moment Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office the midterm election campaign began. Prognosticators make a living by discussing such things on cable news channels, often making up for a lack of insight with an overabundance of hot air. “My opponent wants to pay for (social program/defensive weapon) by cutting spending for (defensive weapon/social program), all while balancing the budget on the backs of the (poor/rich), which will benefit no one but the (rich/poor).” Using this formula five times in 10 minutes will get you a guest spot on the McLaughlin Group; using it 10 times in five minutes will get you your own show on CNBC.

Currently, the presidency and both houses of Congress are controlled by the Democratic Party. The Republican opposition looks at the incredibly low Congressional approval poll numbers (which has skyrocketed to 26 percent from a low last fall of 14 percent, according to and salivates. Wait until next year, they think, and they will ride the wave of disapproval to electoral victory.

The problem is that congressional disapproval is nothing new. In fact, Congress’ approval rating has been at or below 50 percent for over six years, according to Three congressional elections have come and gone, and still not once has Congress garnered the approval of even a bare majority of Americans.
This seems strange. Even in the post-election honeymoon, for the past six years, voters haven’t approved of the Congress they elected. I once knew of a couple who got married on a Saturday, argued that Sunday, and contacted divorce attorneys on Monday. But at least even they approved of each other at the reception Saturday night.

Historically, approval has been tied to the political party of the respondent. Thus, Republicans tend to favor a Republican Congress and Democrats favor a Democratic Congress. But for the past few years, poll respondents from both parties disapproved of Congress nearly equally, regardless of which party had a congressional majority.

This means that each election voters go to the polls and say to the ruling party, “I hate you,” and then have to wait two years to tell the former opposition party, “I hate you, too.” This is probably what will happen next November, when the current dislike of Congress expresses itself as a loss for Democrats.

The shame with this result is that it can’t be a loss for Democrats without being a victory for Republicans. When one of the two parties wins a congressional election, they think it had something to do with how great they are, while what America is trying to tell them is, “It’s been a while since we’ve seen how badly you suck and we are hoping you’ve turned your act around.”

They have not, in fact, turned their act around. Why would they? They don’t need to gain voter approval to win an election, they just have to make sure the voters hate them slightly less than the alternative.

This was not a winning formula when I got married. I did not sell myself to my wife by pointing out that some other potential husband was twice the jerk I was. I actually had to be desirable, not simply less repulsive, because my wife would have said, “I’m not limited to just the two of you jerks.”

The American electorate, however, has limited itself to two jerks. Ending the relationship with one jerk makes the other think he’s desirable, and ends whatever incentive he had to change. If America wants a Congress it can approve of, if it dislikes the idea of approval numbers getting to 26 percent by “skyrocketing,” then it has to look beyond the two jerks.

I lived in California during the 2003 gubernatorial recall election. In countless conversations, friends would say to me, “I prefer Candidate X, but he can’t win, so I’m going to vote for Candidate Y.”

A candidate can’t win so long as his supporters think he can’t. The biggest supporters of the myth that a third-party candidate can’t win an election are the two established parties. American politics used to see the births and deaths of all sorts of political parties. The Republican Party was founded in 1852, and within eight years had its presidential candidate elected to the White House. As the midterm election comes into swing this coming year, consider looking beyond the two jerks for a party you can actually support, not just a party you hate slightly less than others.