Democrats Come Back From Ten Point Deficit To Tie GOP In Generic Ballot

A week ago the conventional wisdom was that the Democrats were doomed because Gallup showed the Republicans moving to a historically high ten point lead over the Democrats on the generic ballot. I discounted the significance of this because the generic polls have been very inconsistent, probably because many voters are not yet certain about which party they support, and as there is a huge difference between generic support for a party and actual voter behavior in a specific race. There is also a tremendous geographical affect, with the GOP lead nationally exaggerated by their high level of support in the south.

After last week’s historic lead for the Republicans, this week’s Gallup shows a tie. Either this poll is not very meaningful as I’ve been saying or the Democrats are showing tremendous momentum over the past week.

This doesn’t mean that the Democrats are not in danger. Simply having to defend many former Republican seats won in the previous two cycles suggests they will lose many seats. The party in office is also bound to lose seats when the economy is bad–even if it means voting for the party which actually created the problem. Voters who think this way are making no more sense than Russians who are wishing for the return of Stalinism in response to their economic troubles, but the fact remains that the party in power will suffer in a bad economy. The polls also show far less enthusiasm among Democrats, and the Democrats will lose many seats if this translates into poor voter turn out.

A new Washington Post poll breaks down voter attitudes. As Kevin Drum discussed in further detail, voters trust the Democrats more to handle the nation’s problems and feel that the Democrat represent their values better, but plan to vote Republican.

Last spring the Democrats had two hopes for an improvement in their political position–the economy would improve and voters would see the benefits of health care reform and show greater support. The first hasn’t happened. The Republicans screwed up the economy so badly when in office there was never much of a chance of recovery this soon. As I warned at the time of the health care vote, the Democrats were taking a huge risk in passing it before selling the plan to the public. They are suffering for all the misinformation being spread while most Americans will not experience the actual benefits until after this election. It might help politically this fall when Medicare beneficiaries see that action is being taken to close the donut hole in their prescription drug benefits.

The most important thing to keep in mind about these polls is that they are a snapshot of where we stand at one point in time. The Democrats know they are in trouble and will try to change things between now and the election. Democrats can do very well if they can get the voters to compare the two parties and vote for those whose policies are preferable, as opposed to blindly voting against the party in office. Even if they fail to do this, which will be difficult this year, getting Democratic voters motivated enough to get out in the same numbers as Republicans will allow them to survive the midterm elections. Running against the most extreme right wing candidates we have ever seen will hopefully motivate more Democrats to turn out, even if not with the same enthusiasm as is seen among those on the radical right.