After the midterm elections, Democrats argued that the Tea Party-inspired turnout was a fluke, and that grassroots voters would start turning on Republicans as soon as they had a share in responsibility for governance. According to the latest Democracy Corps survey of battleground Congressional districts, neither are true, at least not yet. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg surveyed voters in 60 Republican-held purple districts and found that voters are even more sour on Democrats than in 2010:
One of the Democratic party’s leading pollsters released a survey of 60 Republican-held battleground districts today painting an ominous picture for Congressional Democrats in 2012. The poll shows Democratic House candidates faring worse than they did in the 2010 midterms, being dragged down by an unpopular president who would lose to both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. …
Instead of an overall anti-incumbent sentiment impacting members of both parties, voters are taking more of their anger out on Democrats. When voters were asked whether they’re supporting the Republican incumbent or a Democratic candidate, 50 percent preferred the Republican and just 41 percent backed the Democrat.
Voters in these districts said they were more supportive of Republicans than they were during the 2010 midterms, when 48 percent said they backed the Republican candidate and 42 percent said they backed the Democrat. (Republicans won 55 percent of the overall vote in these 60 battleground districts, while Democrats took 43 percent.) In 2010, Republicans netted 63 House seats – their best showing since 1948.
That’s not to say that Republicans don’t have anything to worry about:
- Negative personal feelings about the incumbent members have jumped 10 points since March; disapproval of how he or she is handling the job has jumped 7 points.
- The percent saying they “can’t re-elect” is up 4 points to 49 percent – compared to just 40 percent who say they “will re-elect because the incumbent is doing a good job and addressing issues important to voters.” This is substantially worse than the position of Democratic incumbents two years ago.
- Among independents, disapproval of incumbent Republican House members jumped 12 points, and a large majority of independents (54 to 37 percent) say they “can’t vote to re-elect” the incumbent.
However, the incumbent Republicans average 50% support for re-election, an achievement gained mainly through consolidation of Republican voters, Greenberg notes. That’s a level where incumbents generally win re-election.
With Democratic support falling from last year, it’s hard to argue that Republicans are in much danger of losing these swing districts as a whole, which would mean that 2010 was more of a realigning election than a fluke. And this result shows that 2012 could be an even stronger realignment. Greenberg only polled in districts already held by Republicans, a not-unfair paradigm in that Democrats obviously want to target these in 2012 as the easiest to potentially win back. However, as Greenberg discovers, Democrats in general and especially Barack Obama continue to lose ground in these districts:
Republicans have lost ground, too, but not as much as Democrats. The party as a whole has lost 5 points rather than 9, and Republicans in Congress only 4 points to the -11 for their counterparts. Voter assessment for Barack Obama in these districts has shifted from a 48/47 in March to 41/55 this month, a fall of 15 points in the gap. Among independents in these districts, it’s not quite as bad, but only because Obama’s approval in these districts was atrocious anyway. Obama went from a 39/54 in March to a 35/59, a 9-point change in the gap, with 48% now strongly disapproving of his performance.
Greenberg says that enthusiasm for Republicans has dropped, but that’s going to change in 2012 regardless of what happens in Congress because of one overriding fact: Obama will be on the top of the ticket. That will bring more Republicans and angry independents to the polls in these districts, and they will vote for Republican incumbents. Demoralized Democrats may still trek to the polls to salvage down-ticket races, but it’s not likely to be enough. A President at 41/55 and 35/59 among independents is an albatross for the rest of his party’s candidates on any ticket, especially in battleground districts.
Perhaps Greenberg should start looking at Democratic-held districts instead of those held by Republicans. If NY-09 is an example, we may need to redefine “battleground” districts, and the result will likely not be pretty for Democrats.