If you were to follow the conventional wisdom coming from the news media pundits you might believe that the Democrats are facing certain doom and Barack Obama is highly unpopular. There is still over a month before the election and there are signs that the election is tightening. While both houses of Congress are now in play, it is too early to predict the results. One problem with the conventional wisdom saying that the Democrats will do poorly is that this could influence behavior and harm Democratic chances, such as by reducing contributions when donors believe the race is futile.
The latest polls are showing that the difference in the generic ballot and in enthusiasm are not looking as badly for Democrats as previously. Republicans might have been more enthusiastic for months about a chance to vote out the Democrats, but the prospect of the extremist ideas of the GOP dominating Congress is starting to make more Democrats interested in voting. Democrats remain at a disadvantage in having to defend many seats which have traditionally been held by Republicans before the 2006 and 2008 elections. Voters in off-year elections are also more likely to be older and more partisan as opposed to the younger and more independent voters who propelled Obama to victory.
While Obama’s popularity is down (as Ronald Reagan’s was at this point in his presidency), the claim coming from many Republicans that Democrats wish to distance themselves for Obama, like most memes spread by the right wing media, is false. Democratic leaders are actually encouraging Obama to campaign more, knowing that he can often connect with the voters more successfully than members of Congress can. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Obama is not on the ballot and Democratic candidates still have to get a discouraged electorate to turn out to vote for them.
Some of the polls do not mean very much but make for some interesting discussion. Besides showing a tightening in the race, the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll tried to show what the electorate wants and does not want. The manner in which this was reported gave a false impression of contradictory results as there are sizable numbers of both Democrats and Republicans answering making the desires of both come out high in the results. That said, here is how NBC summarized what voters don’t want:
And here are the most unacceptable outcomes: Palin becoming the GOP’s leading spokesperson (55% unacceptable), Pelosi continuing as speaker (51%), the Democrats continuing to hold the majority in Congress (42%), and the Tea Party becoming a major force in Congress (41%). If some of these results seem somewhat contradictory, well, they are. But these two lists do give you a gauge — however imperfect — what voters want and what they don’t. Here’s a final set of numbers: 41% said it’s an acceptable outcome if President Obama is dealt a setback in the midterms, while an identical 41% said it would be unacceptable, which is just more evidence that November will be more of a referendum on the economy and Washington than on the president.
It is a good sign that a majority do not want Palin leading the Republican Party, but I’m surprised by how much worse she came out here compared to the Tea Party.
If we bought the argument that Obama is to blame for the Democrats’ problems, the natural question would be whether he is susceptible to a primary challenge within his own party. In a poll which has near zero predictive value of what would happen in an actual race, Gallup found that Obama leads Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical Democratic primary race by 52 percent to 37 percent. Not surprisingly, Obama does better among liberals while the more conservative Clinton does better among conservative and female voters.