SEPTEMBER 7, 2010
National surveys dominated today’s political news, and they made unhappy reading for Democrats. Some of the most interesting findings didn’t get widely reported, however. Here they are, with my comments in italics:
Do you think Obama’s economic program is making the economy better, making it worse, or having no effect?
Better Worse No effect
9/2010 30 33 36
4/2010 39 26 32
If the Republicans took control of Congress, do you think their economic program would make the economy better, make it worse, or have no effect?
Better Worse No effect
32 27 37
The share of the electorate that thinks Obama’s program is making the economy better has fallen by one-quarter—9 percentage points—in the past five months. As a result, his better/worse rating on economic policy now is -3 (versus +13 in April) while the Republicans’ rating stands at +5.
Do you think if Republicans win control of Congress in November they will return to the economic policies of George W. Bush or do you think they will have different ideas for how to deal with the economy?
Policies of George W. Bush 35
Different ideas 58
Not sure 7
Do you think if Democrats maintain control of Congress is November they will continue with the economic policies of Barack Obama or do you think they will have different ideas for how to deal with the economy?
Policies of Barack Obama 62
Different ideas 32
Not sure 6
This is a double dose of bad news for Democrats. First, the entire premise of their fall campaign is that a vote for Republicans means returning to the bad old days of the Bush administration. Unfortunately for them, most Americans disagree. Unless voters can be persuaded that their assessment of today’s Republicans is mistaken, the Democrats’ attack seems fated to fall flat. Second: As we have seen, the electorate tends to believe that continuing Obama’s economic program would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, they also believe by a 2 to 1 margin that if they leave Congress in Democrats’ hands, Obama’s program is what they’ll get.
In the next election for U.S. Congress, do you feel that your representative deserves to be reelected, or so you think that it is time to give a new person a chance?
8/2010 9/2006 9/1994
Deserves to be reelected 31 41 30
Give a new person a chance 56 43 53
Not sure 13 16 17
In general, do you think it is better for the same political party to control both the Congress and the presidency, so they can work together more closely, or do you think that it is better to have different political parties controlling the Congress and the presidency to prevent either one from going too far?
8/2010 10/2008 10/1994
Same party controls both 29 41 36
Different parties 62 48 55
During the next twelve months, do you think the nation’s economy will get better, get worse, or stay about the same?
Get better 26 40
Get worse 26 20
Stay about the same 45 38
Would you say that your views on most political matters are liberal, moderate, or conservative?
9/2010 1/2009 Change since Obama’s inauguration
Liberal 19 24 -5
Moderate 37 42 -5
Conservative 40 32 +8
In the four years after the 2004 elections, the public’s reaction against the excesses of the Bush administration allowed Democrats to regain and fortify their congressional majority and to recapture the White House. Since 2008, however, this dynamic has reversed itself. Today’s surveys add to the evidence suggesting that Democrats face a fall scenario ominously resembling 1994. In 1982, Ronald Reagan was able to limit his party’s losses by urging voters to “stay the course,” a strategy whose success depended on the belief that the only alternative to his brand of conservative economics was a return to the policies of the Carter administration. If voters now distinguish between the policies of today’s Republican Party and those of the Bush administration, Democrats will be hard put to replicate Reagan’s feat.
Lacking a resonant national message, Democratic candidates have little choice but to focus on local issues and the shortcomings of their adversaries. If this is a “wave” election, though, this strategy may fall short, because waves typically carry even flawed opposition candidates across the finish line.