POLITICO poll shows mounting danger for Dems
By: Alexander Burns
May 19, 2014 05:02 AM EDT
President Barack Obama’s job approval slump and voters’ entrenched wariness of his health care law are dogging Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, and Republicans have captured a lead in the areas home to the year’s most competitive races, according to a new POLITICO poll.
In the congressional districts and states where the 2014 elections will actually be decided, likely voters said they would prefer to vote for a Republican over a Democrat by 7 points, 41 percent to 34 percent. A quarter of voters said they were unsure of their preference.
Among these critical voters, Obama’s job approval is a perilous 40 percent, and nearly half say they favor outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Sixty percent say they believe the debate over the law is not over, compared with 39 percent who echo the president’s position and say the ACA debate has effectively concluded.
Both Obama’s job approval and the partisan ballot matchup are markedly more negative for Democrats in this poll than other national surveys — a reflection of the political reality that the midterm campaign is being fought on turf that is more challenging for Democrats than the nation as a whole.
The poll reveals that voters — even in the more conservative midterm states like Georgia and Arkansas, and tossup House districts in states such as Illinois, West Virginia and California — still lean in a liberal direction on several issues Democrats have championed this year, including immigration reform, pay equity for men and women and background checks for gun purchasers.
But none of those issues comes close to approaching health care as a major concern for midterm voters. Nearly nine in 10 respondents said that the health care law would be important to determining their vote, including 49 percent who said it would be very important.
By comparison, only 28 percent said that immigration reform was “very important” to determining their vote, and 16 percent who said the same of male-female income disparity.
Charles Pearre, a retired civil engineer in Virginia’s Prince William County, said his top priority for the midterms was “getting the government back on track where we have a Congress that can get something done.” But Pearre, a self-identified conservative, said he prefers a divided government and deeply distrusts the president.
“My opinion of the president is he’s not doing a good job at all and he’s not qualified,” said Pearre, who has not decided which party to vote for in the midterms. “The health care law, I think, should be totally revised.”
So far, the 2014 midterms have shaped up as an asymmetrical contest between Republicans campaigning broadly against the health care law and Obama as a national political brand, and Democrats emphasizing a host of locally tailored issues and a narrower message about economic fairness and gender equality. The Republican argument appears more bluntly powerful in many of the midterm races — GOP-trending states with competitive Senate races, for instance, like Louisiana and North Carolina — but it remains to be seen whether the same set of national issues will continue to dominate the six months between now and Election Day.
Among voters who had an opinion of the ACA, the electorate was almost exactly split between those who want to repeal the law entirely and those who favor either leaving it alone or keeping it in place with modifications.
Forty-eight percent of respondents endorsed repeal, versus 35 percent who wanted to modify the law without repealing it and just 16 percent who said it should be left unchanged.
The POLITICO poll, administered by SocialSphere Inc. and conducted by the research firm GfK, tested 867 likely voters in hotly contested areas. The poll was conducted online using GfK’s KnowledgePanel methodology, which is also employed by The Associated Press, from May 2 to 13. The poll has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
At the same time that the health care law is plainly a political anchor for Democrats, the poll signals that fully killing the ACA may not be a slam-dunk as a political proposition and could be a more complicated issue for a GOP presidential ticket to negotiate in 2016. While majorities of white voters (54 percent) and men (51 percent) support repealing Obamacare, repeal now falls short of majority support with most subgroups.
Among independent voters, a majority favor either keeping the law with modifications (45 percent) or leaving it intact entirely (11 percent), with 42 percent supporting repeal. Among self-described moderates, 50 percent say the law should be left in place but modified.
The law receives powerful support from minority voters, including 80 percent of African-Americans who want to leave the law alone (34 percent) or modify it (46 percent), and 55 percent of Hispanics who want it left entirely intact (22 percent) or only modified (33 percent).
Broken down by region, only in the South did total repeal of the law command the support of a majority — 51 percent. In the Northeast, Midwest and West, repeal was the preference of a plurality of voters, but a majority favored either leaving the ACA as is or making changes to the law without repealing it.
The midterm electorate, however, is expected to be whiter and more conservative than the country as a whole, and many of the year’s highest-stakes Senate races are in Southern states such as Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana. So even if the law has gained some legitimacy with the broader public, it remains ominous for Democrats that repeal is the plurality position of likely voters.
Iowa Democrat Cheri Hansen said the economy was the most important issue to her in 2014. While she said she was happy with Obama, she allowed that there “probably need to be some changes” to the ACA. “I think we need to get a predominant party in there to accomplish anything, apparently,” she said.
“It’s not a presidential year, so it’s not as important,” Hansen said. “But you know, the economy is important.”
Vivian Ryals, a Democratic voter in Greensboro, N.orth Carolina, said she took a fatalistic view of the health care law: “It is what it is, and I’ll kind of leave it at that.”
“I am more middle-of-the-road on that issue. I’m not in favor of it, and I don’t oppose it,” said Ryals, a teacher who explained she is more concerned about voter ID requirements that Republicans have implemented on the state level.
The larger backdrop for the elections is widespread hostility toward Washington and distrust of government. Voters give harsh reviews to both parties in Congress, and a plurality say that their personal experiences with government are more negative than positive. Nearly two-thirds of voters said they prefer a government in which different parties control the White House and Congress, rather than one party controlling all the levers of power.
Voters give a thumbs-down to congressional Republicans by a 38-point margin, with 69 percent disapproving and 31 percent approving. Democrats fare only a bit better, finding themselves 29 points underwater — with 35 percent of likely voters approving and 64 percent disapproving.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents said that their interactions with the federal government over the past year had been more negative than positive, while only 18 percent said the opposite. Forty-five percent were unsure how to assess their experiences dealing with the government.
Perhaps most damningly, few who were informed about recent scandals involving two congressman — former Florida Rep. Trey Radel, who bought cocaine from an undercover police officer, and married Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister, who kissed a member of his staff — said they were surprised.
Only 11 percent of respondents said they were “shocked” by the cocaine scandal, and even fewer — 4 percent — expressed extreme surprise at the “Kissing Congressman.”
In both cases, a solid majority of respondents said they were “not moved much at all.”
On social issues, the poll shows the midterm electorate is somewhat more conservative than the country at large: While the broader population has swung in the direction of favoring same-sex marriage, the issue is a tossup with midterm voters. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they support same-sex marriage, and 52 percent said they oppose it.
On another issue where the country as a whole has quickly shifted in a progressive direction, decriminalizing marijuana, a 56 percent majority of voters in midterm battlegrounds still say they oppose legalizing recreational pot use.
When it comes to abortion rights, however, midterm voters are more aligned with Democrats than with Republicans: 54 percent say they support the right to an abortion either with no restrictions (19 percent) or some restrictions (35 percent).
Forty-five percent said there should be either a near-total abortion ban with some exceptions (34 percent) or a total ban on the procedure (11 percent).