What vot­ers are say­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions are nearly three months away. Sev­eral non­par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal hand­i­cap­pers, how­ever, have been mak­ing some un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally de­fin­i­tive state­ments — for this stage of the cam­paign, at least — about the likely out­comes.

“All things be­ing equal, if cur­rent trends con­tinue, the Democrats take the House,” Stu­art Rothen­berg, ed­i­tor of the Rothen­berg Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, told The Wash­ing­ton Post, adding: “That’s a pretty strong state­ment for Au­gust.” Char­lie Cook, ed­i­tor of the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, warned in a re­cent Na­tional Jour­nal col­umn: “Time is run­ning out for Repub­li­cans. Un­less some­thing dra­matic hap­pens be­fore Elec­tion Day, Democrats will take con­trol of the House. And chances that they’ll seize the Se­nate are ris­ing to­ward 50-50.” Af­ter three-term Con­necti­cut Demo­cratic Sen. Joe Lieber­man be­came only the third elected sen­a­tor to lose a pri­mary in more than a quar­ter-cen­tury, Amy Wal­ter, who an­a­lyzes House races for Mr. Cook, told the New York Times: “All signs are point­ing to an anti-sta­tus-quo elec­tion.” With Democrats need­ing to gain 15 seats to achieve ma­jor­ity con­trol of the House, she ob­served: “Can Democrats win the House is no longer the valid ques­tion. The ques­tion is whether Repub­li­cans can do any­thing about it.”

Above and be­yond the bag­gage of Pres­i­dent Bush’s low ap­proval rat­ings that Repub­li­cans must carry into the fall, sev­eral re­cent polls of­fer a host of other rea­sons why the Repub­li­cans are in trou­ble:

On the crit­i­cal “right di­rec­tion/wrong track” ques­tion, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll re­ports that only 28 per­cent “feel things in this coun­try are gen­er­ally go­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” while 66 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve “things have pretty se­ri­ously got­ten off on the wrong track.” Th­ese num­bers are worse than the 30-65 “right di­rec­tion/wrong track” di­vi­sion that pre­vailed just be­fore the 1994 midterm elec­tions, when Repub­li­cans gained 52 seats in the House and won con­trol of both cham­bers of Congress. Par­tic­u­larly wor­ri­some for Repub­li­cans is the fact that 70 per­cent of self-de­scribed in­de­pen­dents, who com­prise 30 per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion, said the coun­try was “on the wrong track.”

On the cru­cial “generic bal­lot” ques­tion, 52 per­cent told The Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News Poll that they would vote for the Demo­cratic can­di­date for the House in their dis­trict, while only 39 per­cent said they would vote for the Repub­li­can can­di­date. The mar­gin in the Wall Street Jour­nal/NBC News Poll was 48 per­cent to 38 per­cent in fa­vor of the Demo­crat. That 10point ad­van­tage also pre­vailed in the NYT/CBS poll (45 per­cent to 35 per­cent), which fur­ther re­ported that in­de­pen­dents fa­vored Democrats over Repub­li­cans by a mar­gin of 36 per­cent to 24 per­cent.

Democrats sup­port their party’s can­di­date by an 85-point mar­gin (88-3), a solid 15-point ad­van­tage, com­pared to the 70per­cent­age-point mar­gin at­trib­uted to Repub­li­cans (79-9). Ac­cord­ing to a NYT/CBS poll con­ducted one week be­fore the 1994 elec­tions, Repub­li­cans en­joyed a 46-41 ad­van­tage over Democrats in the “generic bal­lot.” In the 2002 midterm elec­tions, when Repub­li­cans won eight more House seats than they won in 2000, the par­ties were es­sen­tially even in the “generic bal­lot.”

By mar­gins of 60-25 (WSJ/NBC), 5828 (NYT/CBS) and 60-36 (WP/ABC), the pub­lic dis­ap­proves of the way the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress is han­dling its job. In­de­pen­dents (NYT/CBS) dis­ap­prove by a 37-point mar­gin (61-24). Be­fore the 1994 elec­tions, Congress’s job dis­ap­proval rat­ings were 63-25 (NYT/CBS) and 72-21 (WP/ABC).

To­day, 43 per­cent of the pub­lic has a fa­vor­able opin­ion of the Repub­li­can Party, while 51 per­cent view the party un­fa­vor­ably. In di­rect con­trast, 51 per­cent view the Demo­cratic Party fa­vor­ably, and 41 per­cent have an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion of the Demo­cratic Party, ac­cord­ing to the NYT/CBS poll. Twelve years ago, just be­fore the 1994 elec­tion, Repub­li­cans had a 54-39 fa­vor­a­bil­ity ad­van­tage, while Democrats were viewed fa­vor­ably by 44 per­cent and un­fa­vor­ably by 48 per­cent.

The NYT/CBS poll asked peo­ple if they thought of their vote for Congress this fall as “a vote for Ge­orge W. Bush” (14 per­cent said “for”) or as “a vote against Ge­orge W. Bush” (33 per­cent said “against”). Forty-eight per­cent said their vote would not be about the pres­i­dent. Im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing the 2002 midterm elec­tion, 31 per­cent said their con­gres­sional vote would be a vote “for” the pres­i­dent and only 19 per­cent said “against.” Thus, a 12-point “for-the-pres­i­dent” ad­van­tage in 2002 has turned into a 19-point “against-the-pres­i­dent” deficit now.

By a mar­gin of 57-27, peo­ple told NYT/CBS that they ap­proved of the job their rep­re­sen­ta­tive was do­ing in the House. By his­tor­i­cal stan­dards, the 57per­cent ap­proval rat­ing is at the low end. More wor­ri­some for Repub­li­cans is the fact that the dis­ap­proval rat­ing of 27 per­cent is 10 points higher than the Septem­ber 1994 dis­ap­proval rat­ing (17 per­cent), which pre­ceded the tsunami that de­feated 34 in­cum­bent House Democrats (and zero GOP in­cum­bents), sweep­ing Democrats from power on Capi­tol Hill. The WP/ABC poll re­ported a 37-point dis­ap­proval rat­ing for rep­re­sen­ta­tives. In late Oc­to­ber 1994, the dis­ap­proval rat­ing for rep­re­sen­ta­tives was a nearly iden­ti­cal 38 per­cent in the WP/ABC poll.

Adding to Repub­li­can con­cerns must be the WSJ/NBC find­ing that only 38 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers said their rep­re­sen­ta­tive “de­serves to be re­elected,” while 48 per­cent said “it is time to give a new per­son a chance.” This ra­tio al­most pre­cisely mir­rors the Oc­to­ber 1994 poll re­sults of 49-39 in fa­vor of “giv[ing] a new per­son a chance.”

What about Novem­ber turnout, which will un­doubt­edly prove to be piv­otal but which is al­ways the most dif­fi­cult vari­able to pre­dict, par­tic­u­larly in Au­gust? Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Cook, cit­ing the WSJ/NBC sur­vey and polling he has com­mis­sioned from RT Strate­gies, re­ports that “Democrats were much more in­ter­ested” in the up­com­ing elec­tions. “We are ap­proach­ing the point where most Democrats can’t wait to vote, and some Repub­li­cans are em­bar­rassed about vot­ing,” RT Strate­gies poll­ster Thom Riehle told Mr. Cook. “The ef­fect of lop­sided par­ti­san in­ter­est in vot­ing is mag­ni­fied in low-turnout midterms, such as in 1974 and 1994,” when 36 Repub­li­can and 34 Demo­cratic in­cum­bents, re­spec­tively, were de­feated.

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