Wednesday, August 10, 2011


For weeks I predicted that the blame for a 98%-GOP debt deal would fall on Democrats, or on "everyone," and that any anti-incumbent anger would focus on the president's party and spare the Republicans. Then a couple of polls released yesterday seemed to suggest that I was wrong about that.

Public Policy Polling had this poll about the debt deal, conducted in the presidential swing states of Colorado and North Carolina:

With such an unpopular deal it's hard to really crown a political 'winner' but to the extent there is one it's Barack Obama. Here's why Obama's the nominal winner. Among voters who support the deal, they're more prone to give Obama the credit than Congressional Republicans. And among voters who oppose the deal, they're more inclined to blame the GOP than the President....

The biggest indication that Obama came out ahead on this one may be in polls we'll release later this week though- Obama is ahead of Mitt Romney in both of these states.

Really? Obama ahead of Romney in Colorado and North Carolina, a traditionally Republican state Obama barely won in '08? Can it be that voters actually cut through all the Beltway prattle about the entire system being broken and actually grasped that (a) the Republicans did most of the harm and (b) the people running to oppose Obama in 2012 are members of the same party as the people who held us hostage in Congress?

The other, better-publicized poll, from CNN, suggests that that's exactly what's happening:

... According to the survey, favorable views of the Republican party dropped eight points over the past month, to 33 percent. Fifty-nine percent say they have an unfavorable view of the Republican party, an all-time high dating back to 1992 when the question was first asked.

The poll indicates that views of the Democratic party, by contrast, have remained fairly steady, with 47 percent saying they have a favorable view of the Democrats and an equal amount saying they hold an unfavorable view.

... The poll indicates that Americans' views of the tea party movement have also turned more negative, with 51 percent saying they have a negative view of the two-year-old limited government and anti-tax grassroots movement, with favorable ratings dropping from 37 percent down to 31 percent....

(By the way, I realize that everyone in Lefty Land except me has taken potshots at Drew Westen's New York Times piece on Obama's rhetorical failures, but can't this be seen as the exception that proves the rule? The president actually did make a prime-time speech about this issue, and did identify Republican intransigence on taxes as a big part of the problem. Maybe it worked? Maybe it would work if he did this kind of thing more often, on the air in the evening hours?)

So the public is starting to get it now. That's terrific.

But what will the practical electoral outcome be? Here's The Hill on the CNN poll:

Voters are more unhappy with the Republican Party now than they were when the Republican-led House voted to impeach then-President Clinton, according to a new CNN poll released Tuesday....

The last time CNN polled the GOP out of favor with more than 50 percent was in 1998. The House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on Dec. 19, 1998, and a survey taken between Dec. 19-20 that year found 57 percent unfavorable toward the Republican party. In January, that number fell to 52 percent, and has not been that high again until this month....

Voters presumably were angry with the GOP for pushing impeachment prior to the 1998 midterms, and to some extent they took it out on Republicans at the polls -- Democrats actually won seats, something that rarely happens to a party with a sixth-year president in office -- but Republicans still retained the House and the Senate. And then, two years later, Republicans held on to the House and Senate again, and gave George W. Bush just enough votes to allow him to steal an election.

So that previous peak of anti-GOP feeling failed to produce an anti-GOP wave election -- twice.

It takes a lot to get voters to turn on the Republicans. It doesn't take nearly as much as it does to get them to turn on Democrats, because an anti-Democrat narrative is broadcast 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in good times and bad, on cable TV and talk radio.


And so in Wisconsin there was enough anti-GOP feeling driven by local (and presumably national) issues to send a couple of state senators to an early retirement, but Republicans will still control the state Senate:

Wisconsin Democrats have fallen just narrowly short of an ambitious goal -- the attempt to pick up three state Senate seats through recall elections and take a majority in the chamber. As of early Wednesday morning, with six incumbent Republicans on the ballot, Democrats have defeated two -- but narrowly missed out in two others....

This would get Democrats from their previous 19-14 minority, following the 2010 Republican wave, to a 17-16 margin....

Nate Silver notes that these districts, on average, are more Republican than Wisconsin as a whole, so maybe a three-seat pickup was a lot to expect. On the other hand, every district with a recall election went for Obama in 2008. So an anti-GOP wave was theoretically possible.

But we're not there yet. And I fear that the only way you can ever get an anti-GOP wave is to have a GOP president who's an unqualified disaster. Voters don't have a well-established narrative in their heads of a Republican Party that's extremely bad for America on an ongoing basis. But they always have ready access to such a narrative about Democrats.

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