Poll: Dissatisfaction spells trouble for Democrats in 2010

LA Times
December 16, 2009
By Mark Silva

As President Obama's supporters grow listless and independents grow irritated, Republicans now have a greater opportunity to dominate midterm elections, according to findings of the Battleground Poll.

Reporting from Washington - Anger among independent voters about the economy and the direction the nation is taking offer Republicans a significant opportunity to reclaim power in the 2010 midterm congressional elections, according to the results of the bipartisan Battleground Poll released today.

A lack of passion among President Obama's core supporters and an absence of confidence that the administration's policies and congressional spending are producing any sorely needed new jobs also pose a serious challenge to the president's party in 2010.

Those are among the findings of a long-established team of Republican and Democratic pollsters, sponsored by George Washington University, which has measured the president's public job-approval rating at a low point for any first-year president in December.

"What a difference a year makes," said Christopher Arterton, dean of the graduate school of political management at GWU.

The president's job-approval rating has slipped to 49%, Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake say. And the percentage of people who strongly disapprove of the president's performance, 41%, outweighs the 37% who strongly approve.

Disapproval of the job that Congress is doing has risen to 68%, "an all-time high," and 77% among independent voters.

The problem for the president's party, the pollsters say, is that the most passionate supporters of the Democratic president appear less likely to turn out to vote in congressional elections next year. And the most angry of the independent voters -- a swing-voting bloc that supported Obama in 2008 -- appear heavily motivated to vote against Democrats.

"There is a potential for this being the 1994 of the angry white male," said Goeas, pointing to the pivotal year during President Clinton's first term when Republicans gained control of the House.

Because of a struggling economy with widespread job losses, Goeas said, "the pool of angry independents is larger than what you normally see in an off-year election year. It is certainly something that is going to be problematic for the Democrats. . . .

"I've come to the conclusion on independents . . . that what really drives them is, they dislike both parties, and they dislike the party in power more," said Goeas, a seasoned Republican pollster at the Tarrance Group, speaking at a breakfast with reporters to present the findings of the newest Battleground Poll. The poll, conducted Dec. 6 to 9, surveyed 1,000 registered voters. It carries a possible margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%

The challenge for Obama's party, the pollsters say, is presenting policies during the first few months of 2010 that clearly offer the promise of new jobs in an economy in which unemployment has reached 10%.

"It's still the economy," Lake said. "If you ask people how they are feeling about the economy, people are very anxious. . . .

"The one most important thing is that Democrats still are winning the vote among people who are most concerned about the economy," said Lake, longtime Democratic pollster at Lake Research Partners. "The No. 1 thing the Democrats have to do is prove they really have a jobs program and an economic program that is going to sell on Main Street."

The economy and jobs rank as the most important issue that Congress should work on among 40% of those surveyed. The cost of healthcare ranks as the top issue among just 15%.

The survey also reveals a "disconnect" between what most voters would like to see in healthcare -- controlling the cost of medical care -- and what they view as the president's priority: insuring the uninsured.

"Only 28% said their priorities match Obama's priorities, and 64% said they do not," Goeas said. "There's a disconnect."

Most voters surveyed, 56%, say the country is on the wrong track, with 34% seeing the nation going in the right direction.

In a "generic" contest between an unnamed Democratic candidate and an unnamed Republican candidate for Congress, 42% of those surveyed said they would support the Republican; 40% opted for the Democrat.

Among those swing-voting independents: 40% said they would select the Republican; 19%, the Democrat.

The voters most likely to support Republican candidates for Congress are more likely to vote next year, according to the survey.

More than three-quarters of Republicans and independents surveyed said they were extremely likely to vote, with fewer than two-thirds of Democrats extremely likely to vote, including 58% of African American voters surveyed.

The Democratic Party's problem is twofold, Lake said: "the intensity of the anger among the independents and the lack of intensity among the 'Obama surge' voters" who helped elect the president.

Although Obama remains personally popular, the poll shows, his policies have proved less so.

Disapproval of the president's job performance is "driven not by the personality of the president, but the policies of the president," Goaes said. "Obama has done more to improve the image of the Republican Party than anything that we've been able to do for years."

Goeas also predicts that, even as the economy improves, deficit spending will become a bigger political problem for the Democrats.

The question of deficit spending translates readily to taxes, he said, and Republicans hold a 55-28 percentage-point advantage on the question of holding down taxes.

Regaining control of the Senate will prove more difficult for the Republicans, Goeas said, and the challenge in reclaiming control of the House will hinge on how many incumbents retire next year and how well the GOP recruits new candidates.

The challenge for Democrats, Lake said, is translating all of the spending underway into the promise of new jobs.

"Spending is rising in people's attention," she said. "If people thought a million jobs were being created by the spending, they wouldn't care about what the spending is. . . . We haven't proven to voters that we are spending money to create jobs for them. Any challenge for Democrats is to turn those bills" into jobs.

The president's party still has an opportunity to regain voter support before the midterm elections, Lake maintains.

"I think we have quite a bit of control over our destiny," Lake said. "We have the ability to really aggressively talk about jobs," the ability to get a healthcare overhaul passed, the ability to address immigration reform and the ability to bring troops home from Iraq.

"We better seize control of our destiny," the Democrat said. "Now we need to present some plans, we need to implement them, we need to set a direction."

The Battleground Survey polled 1,000 registered, likely voters.


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