Yesterday was Super Tuesday, an important day for American democracy when citizens of one of the major parties headed to the polls to choose their standard-bearer. Republican voters should be excited about their favorite candidate, especially since so many in the party have been demanding new leadership and a new direction for the last four years.
So where's the enthusiasm?
A new WashingtonPost-ABC News poll shows that there is very little.
According to the poll:
Texas Rep. Ron Paul does best with a 38 percent favorable rating and a 35 percent unfavorable rating. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the race, clocks in at a dismal 32 percent favorable score, 16 points lower than the 48 percent of independents who see him in an unfavorable light. Ditto former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who is viewed favorably by just three in 10 independents. That looks positively outstanding when compared to the 21 percent -- yes, 21 percent -- of independents who view former House Speaker Newt Gingrich favorably.
Who or what is to blame for the lackluster numbers?
The answer is super PACs -- but not for the reason you might be thinking.
It's easy to say that Republicans and Independents have turned sour on the candidates because of a bloody primary season of candidate-specific super PACs beating up on opponents. It's true that the public is disgusted by the amount of negative advertising; and that in spite of the Supreme Court's delusions, the general public does not believe super PACs are truly independent of the candidates they support, and so likely blames the candidates for much of the negativity.
However, there is a more fundamental problem that explains much of the disconnect between the Republican candidates and the rank-and-file voters: the fact is, voters did not choose these candidates -- donors did.
It has become clear over the course of this primary season that a candidate's super PAC's prowess in knocking down the competition is key to staying in the race. Yet a recent U.S.PIRG/Demos study found that of all itemized contributions to super PACs, 96% came in contributions of $10,000 or more from just 1097 donors.
Let me say that another way: the equivalent of 0.000351% of the population of the United States (or just 35 of every 10 million Americans) has given 96% of the money determining who stays and who goes in the Republican primary.
Is it any wonder that those headed to the polls yesterday were not exactly gushing with enthusiasm for candidates who were hand-picked for them by a tiny group of wealthy donors?
A world where candidates actually had to rely on small contributions, contributions that every American household could afford to make if they so choose, could look quite different. Either the current crop of Republican candidates would have spent more time talking about the issues that really matter to rank-and-file Republicans and Independents rather than the issues that really matter to Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess; or voters would be casting their ballots for an entirely different set of Republican candidates.
Either way, it's safe to assume that voters would be more excited about going to the polls yesterday.
This is just one more reason why leaders on both sides of the aisle should be working to overturn Citizens United and related cases.