In the last week before Americans head to the polls, Democrats are fighting to maintain their control of that chamber amid an unfavorable political climate. Now, the president’s party must contend with another impediment in their effort to retain their Senate majority: a disastrous news cycle.
In the final week before the election, the major issues dominating headlines and capturing the attention of low propensity voters are the federal government’s attempts to contain the West African Ebola outbreak, which has spread to patients in Dallas and New York City, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorist incidents inspired by Islamist militants overseas.
In a piece posted on Friday, I suggested why these two issues would both resonate with the electorate and have a deleterious effect on Democratic electoral prospects. Those issues are not only priorities among likely voters but are generally thought to favor Republicans. Terrorism and Ebola both serve to hang a lantern on governmental incompetence, and, according to a recent poll, it seems both these stories have had the effect of sapping the public’s faith in the party of government.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll asked voters what effect the news cycle – e.g., a terror attack on Canada’s parliament, an ax-wielding maniacal Islamist attacking police in New York City, and the continued spread of Ebola to American shores despite the assurances of government officials who insisted this was an unlikely prospect – has had on their vote. The results were not good for Democrats.
For 53 percent, the events in the news have made them less likely to back Democrats at the polls next Tuesday. Only 40 percent said the same of the GOP. Another 35 percent said the issues in the news have made them more predisposed to vote Republican while only 25 percent said the same of the party in power.
That same poll found a whopping 52 percent believed Republicans were better suited to control both chambers of Congress while only 41 percent said the same of Democrats – an 11-point GOP advantage. At this point in 2010, by contrast, the GOP only had a 7-point advantage over Democrats in this poll on the question of which party deserves to control Congress.
For a political media complex, which is generally ideologically simpatico with Congressional Democrats, running stories about the Ebola or terrorism is tantamount to running a Republican GOTV operation. Expect coverage of the terrorist incidents in New York and Canada to all but disappear entirely, while the allegedly heartless involuntary quarantining of potentially symptomatic nurses like that which was ordered by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the new angle to Ebola coverage. He will serve as the villain in the federal government’s place, despite the fact that much of the public favors stricter measures by public officials aimed at containing the spread of this hemorrhagic fever to American shores.
While these tactics are unlikely to alleviate the public’s anxiety or lead them to forget these issues entirely, the press and Democrats have to do something. With a late-breaking GOP wave forming, the worst thing that could possibly happen to Democrats is the present news cycle persisting into next week.