Public Doesn’t Care About Filibusters

Photo used under a Creatives Commons license by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/metal4rock/1196819338/"_blank">metal4rock</a>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Earlier this week, New Mexico senator Tom Udall, a freshman Democrat, introduced a resolution that, should it succeed, would set in motion a process that could lead to the elimination of the filibuster at the start of the 112th Congress next January. (If that sentence sounded unnecessarily clunky and complicated, well, welcome to the Senate.)

Udall’s resolution seeks to reverse the long-held notion known as the “continuing body” theory, which posits that Senate rules transfer from one Congress to the next, and thus can only be changed by a two-thirds vote (or, more likely, an act of God). “Continuing body” sounds like a great name for a New Age healing ritual, but it’s a really lousy way to run a government: as a result of the built-in impediments to reform, the Senate operates on a set of rules that only a handful of its members ever voted for. Instead, Udall contends that every Congress has the authority to set its own rules, under Article 1 Section 5 of the Constitution. He’s probably right.

The filibuster’s faults are self-evident, but that doesn’t make its elimination a winning political issue by any stretch. According to a new survey from Pew, only 26% of Americans know how many votes it takes to overrule a filibuster. (For a point of comparison, consider that 32% could identify Michael Steele as the chairman of the RNC). While Democrats have been effective in turning Steele into a political pincushion, a year’s worth of grousing about Senate procedure hasn’t made it into a hot-button issue.

Nor, for that matter, will another year’s worth of grousing have any effect, if history is any indication. At the peak of the filibuster debate in 2005, when Senate Republicans sought to change the rules to protect their electoral mandate, the public remained largely indifferent: 37% opposed the plan, 28% supported it, and 35% didn’t really know what to think. And despite a barage of advertisements in support of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster, just 14% of respondents admitted to following the filibuster debate “very closely.” That was probably thanks to other more pressing issues like high gas prices, the war in Iraq, social security, the economy, and the search for a new Pope.

Democrats may be right to highlight Senate rules as an overarching obstacle to democracy. But that alone won’t make it a winning argument.

Follow Tim Murphy on Twitter.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate