Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview

3
The Angry Voter: Politics and
Popular Discontent in the 1990s

STEPHEN C. CRAIG

The signs are unmistakable and they have been there for quite a long time now. They were there in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter (in an act of political misjudgment that foreshadowed his defeat at the polls a year later) spoke to the American public about a growing "crisis of confidence" that was threatening "to destroy the social and political fabric" of our nation (see Strong 1986). And after a brief lull during the early part of the decade, they were there again in 1987 when journalist Jonathan Yardley looked ahead to the upcoming presidential race and confessed that "[a]fter more than a quarter-century as a registered voter and working journalist, I have lost virtually all interest in politics -- not public affairs, but politics. . . . Where once I believed that politics is an honorable, if not noble, calling, I now see it as the refuge of opportunists and self-aggrandizers, if not scoundrels. Where once I believed that it was possible for an individual to change the course of national events, I now am deeply skeptical of messianism in all forms, left, center or right . . ." ( Yardley 1987, p. 25).

The signs were there in 1988 when 63 percent of the public said that "the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves" rather than being run "for the benefit of all the people" ( Craig 1993); in 1990 when a plurality agreed that their own representative in Congress was "more concerned about getting reelected" (44 percent compared with 41 percent who believed that the incumbent was "sincerely working to solve the critical problems facing the country," see Morin 1990) and when voters in three states ( Oklahoma, Colorado, and California) passed ballot measures limiting the number of terms that various elected officials could serve; 1 and once more in 1992 (see Chapter 14) when fourteen additional states enacted term limits and 67 percent of the overall public claimed that business, religious, and governmental leaders -- but especially the latter 2 -- were "less trustworthy and honest" than had been the case ten or fifteen years earlier.

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