Counterpoint: the volatile electorate

For all the talk you’ll hear over the next two days about “tsunami,” historic rejection of the president, five alarm fires and a collective national yearning for the GOP, the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll offers something much more mundane: an economic downturn that has produced the same kind of electoral volatility as every other economic downturn. A stat that stood out for me: of the voters who say they are likely to vote Republican this cycle, the percentage who call it a protest vote against president Obama: 15. The share calling their vote a protest against Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats: 20. A protest against Obama and the Dems: 10. And the share calling it an affirmative vote for the GOP: 48 — just one point under the likely voter total preferring the Republican Party. Meanwhile, registered voters are essentially split down the middle between the two parties.

The upshot: the more excited party — Republicans, prefer that Republicans win the day. Well knock me over with a feather. The poll, which you can read for yourself here, has a lot of interesting data in it, most of which you won’t hear much of between the superlatives that will be tossed around about the “Republican wave” today, tomorrow and for the rest of the election news cycle. As a result, the fun house mirror the tea party Republicans (and Sarah “gosh, if the country needs me…” Palin) look at themselves in will only get goofier over the next few days. So in the interest of full poll disclosure, here’s some of what you’ll miss:

- The right track/wrong track numbers are bad – 31/60. That’s not as bad as it has been — in October 2008 they were 12/78. But they are bad, and have been heading in the wrong direction for two years. That’s bad for Democrats and the president. But it could be worse. Even with those numbers, the president’s approval rating stands at an historically decent 45 percent among registered voters — and 44 percent among “likely” voters. And the president’s numbers continue to be better than either political party, or — wait for it — the media darlings of the tea party movement (who are still being represented, for some reason, as separate from the Republican Party):

Barack Obama 47 42 5
The Democratic Party 39 42 -3
The Republican Party 34 41 -7
The Tea Party Movement 32 40 -8
George W. Bush 32 51 -19
Nancy Pelosi 24 50 -26

- As for control of Congress, registered voters prefer it to be GOP controlled versus Democratic controlled by a scant margin: 46-44, while likely voters split 49-43.

But at the District level, registered voters say they are more likely to vote for a Democrat over a Republican by a slim, but real margin of 44-41. Among likely voters, the “tsunami” is such that those voters say they’re more likely to vote for a Republican by a single point: 44-43.

- According to the poll, a very un-tsunami-like 40 percent say Republican control of both houses of Congress would be a good thing, versus 34 percent who say it would be a bad thing, and 22 percent who say it would make no difference.

- And another important data point: asked whether they are mainly voting to send a message, or voting for the person they think would be best for the office, a whopping 22 percent say they are voting to send a message: less than the 28 percent who say they support the tea party — while 71 percent say they are simply voting for the person they think is best for the job. Again, keep in mind that Republican leaning voters are more enthusiastic, and so of course, they are also more likely to think a Republican is “best for the job…” though not by much.

- And now for what I think are the most important numbers in the poll. Asked “if you could send a message along with your vote for Congress as to what your vote means in this election, what one or two things would you say?” and given a first and a second choice, here’s how things shook out:

  • 39 percent said the message would be “focus more on the economy and jobs” with 21 percent making that their first choice
  • 23 percent said “return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution” — the tea party mantra — was their first or second choice, and 14 percent made that their first choice.
  • 23 percent said “work with the other party to get things done” — not the tea party mantra — and 13 percent made THAT their first choice
  • Only 16 percent made “balance the federal budget” their first or second choice, with just 8 percent picking that first
  • And the same 8 percent had as their first choice “look out for the interests of working people” and “support President Obama’s agenda.” (16 and 13 percent respectively made those their first and second choice)
  • Stop outsourcing jobs was the first or second choice of 15 percent and the first choice of 7
  • The exact same percentage: 3 percent, had as their first choice “show opposition to President Obama’s healthcare legislation” and “show support” for that legislation (first or second choice 7 and 8 percent)
  • And while 3 percent picked as their first choice “don’t return to Bush’s economic policies (8 percent first or second choice) the grand total of those saying the message they’d like to send is a whopping 1 percent. So much for a wholesale rejection of the president.
  • The bottom line is that the volatile electorate isn’t new. Long gone are the days after the Depression when Democrats held onto Congress for two generations. We’ve changed control of Congress three times since 1994, and we’ll likely continue to lurch back and forth in this deeply divided nation. Let’s see how the polls shake out, but I reject the notion that Americans suddenly woke up this year with a deep seated desire to punish the president. People are filled with economic anxiety and unsure about which party can dig us out. And Republicans, who have been told by the pundit class all year that they will win back Congress, are excited about voting. But Democrats are getting more interested in voting too, and we’re seeing that in the early vote. Most importantly, if this is an historic realignment in favor of the GOP, then Democrats should not be able to win anywhere tomorrow — they should lose every contested Senate seat, including in California, Connecticut and Delaware, no matter who the candidate is. And nobody believes that’s going to happen.

    Meanwhile, for some historical perspective on our volatile electorate, do read this.

    And for my political junkies, enjoy the new round of PPP goodness.

    This entry was posted in Elections, Opinion, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

    5 Responses to Counterpoint: the volatile electorate

    1. Al Dente says:

      Caponized Candidate Crist is Running as a Woman – SHOCKING story at:

      Peace! :-)

    2. JRC says:

      Here’s a letter I sent to Mr. King – perhaps I could send it to you as well:
      “Hello Mr. King;

      After reading your article about ‘Historic Volatility’, I have to
      say I’m pretty skeptical of your ideas. This election is about a lot
      more than some statistical see-saw discontent.

      This article is the kind of lame excuse that liberals always make
      when they get defeated. They want to paint the defeat as anything
      but what it is. This time, you are only a forerunner of what is sure
      to be a massive campaign of disinformation, which will try it’s best
      to distort, deceive, anything but admit that what we see is a direct
      result of the Tea Party movement, amid wide disgust with Obamadems
      and the child who is at the helm in D.C.

      I do not know you personally, and I have no information about your
      opinions other than this article.

      However, knowing the obvious – that the vast, vast majority of
      those who call themselves ‘journalists’ are flat-out progressives
      (another word for leftists), and that the WSJ is anything but
      one-sided in its opinion pieces – I might wonder just where your
      affinities lie.


      • jreid says:

        Calling the president a “child” both brands you a racist cretin, and ends the debate. Learn to make your points without the childish Limbaughisms and perhaps I’ll begin to take you seriously.

    3. Rupert says:

      Sure, JRC; keep drinking the tea; meanwhile the Republicans have already been noting that if the Democrats manage to win some of the close races, it will certainly be because they stole the elections; they love the election fraud excuse for their own shortcomings.

      I don’t know you personally, but I do see you write lousy letters.

    4. That WSJ article is JUST what I need right now, Joy.

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