Battleground Poll: Electorate in Anti-Incumbent Mood
By Alexis Simendinger - March 26, 2014
Less than eight months before a closely divided electorate decides which candidates they'll send to Congress, Democrats vying for House and Senate seats face a downbeat populace that may stay home in November, while Republican candidates find themselves challenged to unite around a common vision beyond opposition to Obamacare.
Nearly five years after the end of the Great Recession, Americans express continued pessimism about the economy and the direction of the country, challenging the party that holds the White House and the Senate to defend its ideas for fixes, according to the findings of a Georgetown University Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters released Tuesday.
The survey, conducted jointly by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, found that likely voters hold both parties in generally low regard and are perilously amenable to the idea of bouncing their own members of Congress out of office.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who helped unpack the data during a media event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, described voters’ mindset this year as “ornery.”
“It’s an anti-incumbent year,” she warned.
Republicans appear more motivated than Democrats to vote in November because of the opening to give their party Senate control, enlarge or hold the House GOP majority, and in the process submerge President Obama’s already-underwater job approval numbers.
“That gives us a little bit of an edge,” added GOP pollster Ed Goeas, president of the Tarrance Group, noting also that Obama’s name will not be on any ballots this year, but his policies will be.
The pollsters agreed that the electorate is narrowly divided and the midterms are competitive, even in the face of Democrats’ turnout challenges, the messiness of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (opposition to which helps mask deeper GOP divisions), and Obama’s lame-duck drag on his party.
“The electorate is polarized and it is very intense,” Goeas said, adding that he sees Democrats shifting campaign resources to key Senate races, leaving House contests that are much more competitive for Republican challengers.
As measured by responses to policies, likely voters said they preferred Democratic candidates when it comes to problem-solving, protecting middle-class values, and preserving Social Security and Medicare. Republican candidates have advantages on the economy, the federal budget, foreign policy, and narrowly on taxes, according to the survey results.
Lake advised Democrats to tuck income inequality into a larger economic framework that appeals to more voters -- at least the 85 percent of Americans who identify themselves as middle class. Middle-class voters, Goeas argued, feel squeezed between the rich and poor, because they believe both ends of the economic spectrum tap government benefits that they themselves don’t receive.
Lake said Democrats would do well to move away from defending the health reform law and go on offense about saving a “disappearing middle class.”
“We need a more muscular, bigger economic agenda laid out there,” she said, noting that Democratic candidates are losing support among segments of the electorate hit the hardest during the economic downturn -- people who are decidedly downcast about their fate and that of the next generation.
“We’ve got to turn those numbers around,” she added.
In the survey, three-quarters of respondents said they think the next generation will be worse off than they are, which Lake called “a violation of the American Dream.”
Even if Congress remains gridlocked this year, Democratic candidates should continue to draw contrasts with Republicans using arguments for more jobs, infrastructure investments, fair-trade agreements, ending tax loopholes overseas, and a “fair” tax system, Lake advised.
Goeas said Republicans should talk up their overall vision for the country as much or more often than they offer policy critiques. He also said the GOP should seize a natural opening to appeal to the concerns of small-business owners, in addition to the anticipated party alliance with large corporations. Many small-business owners, no matter how successful, tend to identify with middle-class values in ways that could pay dividends for the GOP come November, he said.
The Battleground Poll was conducted March 16-20, and the results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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at March 26, 2014 - 02:53:39 PM CDT