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):
|TOTAL POSITIVE||TOTAL NEGATIVE||D/S|
|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|
- 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:
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.