Let’s start with the good news from the latest Gallup/USA Today poll. The survey found that among those planning to vote for Republicans this year, 44% planned to do so because of the Democratic Party. That is a higher percentage than Gallup has found in midterm elections, including the 56-seat win for Republicans in 1994 and the Democratic takeover in 2006 (in reverse):
The 44% of Republican voters who say they are voting more against the Democratic candidate exceeds the level of negative voting against the incumbent party that Gallup measured in the 1994 and 2006 elections, when party control shifted (from the Democrats to the Republicans after the 1994 elections and from the Republicans to the Democrats after the 2006 elections).
In the fall of 1994, just prior to that year’s elections, 34% of Republican voters said they were voting against the Democratic candidate rather than for the Republican candidate. There was a slightly higher proportion of negative voting in 2006, when 38% of Democratic voters said they were casting a ballot against the Republican candidate. …
On a comparative basis, there is much less negative voting among Democratic voters this year than among Republican voters. Sixty-one percent of Democratic voters say they are voting to support their preferred party, while 32% are voting Democratic to reject the Republican Party.
These attitudes among Democrats are typical of what Gallup has found in past elections; the trailing/incumbent party’s supporters have been much less likely to engage in negative voting than the leading/opposition party’s supporters.
That probably means that Democrats can’t reverse the tide by running against George W. Bush and demonizing Republicans. They have to find a positive message about their own performance that will cool voter anger and give them a shot at limiting their losses. Unfortunately, their tone-deaf focus on forcing an unpopular overhaul of the health-care system while ignoring the fact that their stimulus didn’t work has doomed that effort in this election cycle. Democrats can’t hold up ObamaCare as a success when 60% of the voters want it repealed, and they don’t have anything else but the failed stimulus and the Lily Ledbetter Act to discuss.
Now for the bad news, which is only mildly worrisome. In 1994, 59% of GOP voters cast their votes in explicit favor of the party, mainly due to the highly successful nationalization of the midterm through the Contract with America. In 2006, 52% of Democratic voters supported the party rather than voted against the Republicans. So far in 2010, the explicit support for the GOP only comes to 48%, not a bad number but clearly not in the 1994 range. Perhaps that kind of positive support isn’t necessary in a cycle where the radical Democratic agenda gets so roundly rejected, but people need a reason to vote for candidates as well as the motivation to get rid of failing incumbents. That’s especially true when it comes to attracting independent voters to one’s banner.
That could be one reason why enthusiasm among independents has dropped to the same levels as Democrats in yesterday’s Gallup report. The GOP could be leaving some votes on the table. They need to make a positive national case for independent support based on a commitment to fiscal discipline and a reversal of the trend of growth in the federal government. That will get independents motivated to come to the polls to support Republicans rather than just to oppose Democrats.