In November of 2008 2000, some analysts were surprised by a University of Michigan survey that seemed to find that a majority of voters thought that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress when in fact Democrats had held the majority in both houses for the previous two years.
So why did people think Republicans had the majority when it was not true? Apparently many people thought that Congress must be controlled by the same party as the president and they were pretty sure that President George W. Bush was labeled as a Republican.
Most people who read political blogs like this one, have a high political IQ and they usually know which party controls each house in Congress and the state legislature.
But you might be surprised to find out how many of your neighbors do not know something as basic as the party affiliation of their own member of Congress.
Suppose your neighbor said, "I strongly disapprove of the job Congress is doing but my Congressman is different." Why? "Well Congressman Smith gave a flag that flew over the Capitol to my son's Cub Scout troop. He sends me his newsletter and he spoke at our town's Memorial Day ceremony. His staff helped Aunt Jane get her social security disability check. He is a great guy."
But is Congressman Smith a Republican or a Democrat? Your neighbor is not sure. What difference does it make in how Congress works which party has the committee chairs or the gavel on the floor? Your neighbor is not sure about that either.
I have always been skeptical when political science professors claim that many people intend to vote for divided government. The reason is that I never met a real-life voter who says "I intend to vote for divided government today because I want one party to control Congress and the other party to control the White House."
If you are a precinct committeeman in downstate Illinois or a precinct captain in Cook County, try a survey of voters in your precinct to find out if they really know for sure the party ID of their own member of the U.S. House. I think you might be surprised to find out how little voters really know.