A pair of new Public Policy Polls focusing on the U.S. Senate races in Florida and Nevada show centrist candidate Charlie Crist and Senate majority leader Harry Reid leading their respective races. But the polls also show something else: voters, especially independent voters, are starting to view tea party candidates like Marco Rubio and Sharron Angle as too extreme.
In the Florida poll, Democrats and independents seem to be flocking to Crist, who draws 44 percent of the Democratic vote to give him 35 percent to Marco Rubio’s 29 percent and 17 percent for Democrat Kendrick Meek. (If Jeff Greene is the nominee, it’s Crist 38, Rubio 29, Greene 13…) That’s somewhat unsurprising, since a majority of respondents still know nothing about Meek. But the real meat in the poll is Crist’s solid 40 percent share of independents and his 23 percent take among Republicans. That indicates that voters in the center and center-right are moving his way. From the pollster:
Crist has increased his support across the board since PPP last polled this race in early March. At that time, while still a Republican, he got just 27% to 34% for Rubio and 25% for Meek. He’s now doing 12 points better with Democrats, 5 points better with independents, and somewhat surprisingly even 5 points better with Republicans.
Marco Rubio’s personal favorability has taken a large hit in the four months since PPP last polled this race. In March voters were pretty evenly divided on him with 31% seeing him positively and 32% negatively. He’s still at 31% with a favorable opinion of him but his negatives have swelled in the interim to 46%. Particularly troubling for Rubio is that a majority of independents now have an unfavorable opinion of him. Like Rand Paul in Kentucky, the better voters have gotten to know Rubio the less they’ve liked him.
Key point: Rubio is keeping the voters he already has, but he’s not growing. In fact, what’s growing is opposition to him. And keep in mind that Rubio was once seen as potentially a national Republican candidate, with the potential to draw Hispanic voters and center-right independents and even moderate Democrats, to the GOP. That was the dream. Right Wing Rubio is the reality. And the more Americans get to know Right Wing Rubio — opposed to extending unemployment benefits to middle class Americans suffering through the Bush recession, but eager to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy; willing to deport American children to get at their undocumented parents, and even staunchly pro-drilling, while the oil from the Deepwater Horizon is lapping up onto the shores in Northwest Florida, the less they like him.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, PPP puts the race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle much closer, but Reid, is far more competitive against Sharron Angle than he was against establishment favorite Sue Lowden, whose worst negative was her preference for chicken bartering. Angle’s negatives are much higher, and that’s putting Reid back in contention. From the pollster:
Given the gift of an opponent who’s even more unpopular than him, Harry Reid leads Sharron Angle 48-46 in the Nevada Senate race. When PPP last looked at the state in January Reid trailed Sue Lowden by ten points.
Reid continues to have upside down approval numbers, but they’ve improved over the last six months. 44% of voters in the state like the job he’s doing while 53% disapprove. That’s a good deal better than earlier in the year when his approval was only 36% and 58% gave him bad marks. Since then Democratic voters have really rallied back around Reid and independents have softened in their feelings toward him as well. Reid’s approval spread within his party is 80/14, compared to 67/27 over the winter. With independents he’s still pretty unpopular at 38/60 but that’s much improved from the prior standing of 24/68. Certainly the Republicans nominating Angle is the biggest reason this race is competitive again, but Reid’s personal resurgence shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Only 36% of voters in the state have a favorable opinion of Angle, while 52% see her negatively. 50% consider her political views to be ‘extremist’ while 39% label them as ‘mainstream.’ Earlier this year Reid was bleeding a lot of Democratic support and getting absolutely crushed with independents but voter uneasiness about Angle’s ideology has caused big shifts on both of those fronts. Where Lowden had led Reid 62-27 with independents, Angle has only a 51-41 advantage. Where Lowden had held Reid to a 75-17 lead with Democratic voters, Angle’s nomination has allowed him to expand that to 85-10.
Think about that for a second. Ms. Angle, a virtual unknown before she won the primary, is already considered an “extremist” by half of the Nevada electorate. Not a good place to be. And as I’ve said before, “Saturday Night Live” isn’t going to be in re-runs forever. When they come back … it’s on.
One last thing from PPP. The pollsters also surveyed whether the tea party movement is truly an independent force, or simply a subset of the Republican Party (which previous polls from other pollsters have pretty much confirmed it to be.) The result?
When asked “Do you identify as a member of the Tea Party?,” 25% of Americans said yes. However, when the Tea Party was added to our traditional party demographic question; “If you are a Democratic press 1, Republican press 2, Tea Partier press 3….” only 10% of Americans said they were part of the Tea Party. This suggests that a majority of those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party don’t consider the Tea Party a independent political party.
Furthermore out of the 25% of Americans who identify as members of the Tea Party 62% also identify as Republicans, 25% as Independents and 12% as Democrats. Almost 47% of Republicans identity as members of the Tea Party. The Tea Party is attracting a large portion of the Republican Party, sugguesting that currently is it just a movement within the Republican Party.
So the question is, given that the tea party movement, and the candidates its helping to select in the primaries (including Rubio, Angle, and Rand Paul) … is the “movement” dragging the GOP so far to the right, independents and moderate Republicans will shun such candidates in the fall, in favor of whatever moderates are available? If so, Charlie Crist is going to have a very happy November, and so will Harry Reid.
Related: Poll-pocalypse now?