2010: Time is already running out for Dems

Democrats are beginning to admit things are looking bad for them in the midterm elections… but they still hope to turn their electoral fortunes on a dime:

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said Wednesday that if the 2010 election were held today, his party would be faced with a similar result to its catastrophic 1994 losses.

Greenberg, who was Bill Clinton’s pollster in the early 1990s, went on to say that he doesn’t think the current situation will hold over the next seven months, and that he expects things will improve for Democrats.

Greenberg went on to the talking point that the GOP’s bad public image might prevent the party from taking full advantage of the situation. Yet the favorable rating for the Democratic Party has fallen to its lowest level since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. The GOP’s supposed image problem image did not stop Republicans from winning in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts — and one is hard pressed to find in the polling data races where the Republican candidate is suffering much from the GOP’s supposedly bad image. Greenberg — and Democrats generally — ignore the possibility that voters will care more about stopping the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda than about the GOP’s image.

Greenberg also notes an increase in intensity among Democrats after passing ObamaCare — but CNN (and Gallup) showed a similar surge in intensity for Republicans.

Beyond these flimsy rationalizations, Democrats (and Reuters) seem to be clinging to the hope that the public anger with them will fade over the next few months:

By Election Day, developments on jobs, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and other events could reshape the political landscape.

“I believe that if we begin to see positive job growth, people’s confidence will return, and that will change the dynamic,” says Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But, he says, “the Democrats obviously face an uphill climb. The question is the steepness of the hill.”

Democrats are likely underestimating how soon political perceptions harden in an election year. Via the Wayback Machine, we can revisit the RNC’s summer meeting in Los Angeles:

One of the sessions at this particular RNC summer meeting was a strategy session in which Republican political demographer John Morgan, Sr., assessed the chances for party candidates in the fall mid-term elections. This closed (to the press) door session was remarkable in that Mr. Morgan went through a slide presentation by region, since we collectively did not have the time to consider each of the 435 separate races for the U.S. House of Representatives, in which he calculated that the likely Republican seat pick-ups would be enough to give the party control of the chamber the following January, after 40 years in the minority. While the audience sat in stunned silence, Mr. Morgan calmly reiterated that his analysis was not based on hype or optimism – he had painstakingly gone through the data in each of the 435 races and confidently concluded that the GOP would win a House majority.

That meeting was held on or about July 21, 1994 — before Hillary Clinton did her infamous bus tour for ClintonCare, before George Mitchell had to pull ClintonCare from the Senate floor, before the House GOP torpedoed the crime bill, well before Newt Gingrich unveiled the Contract With America. Moreover, an analysis of all 435 House races probably took a while to compile, suggesting that the basic shape of the 1994 midterm election was set by summer.

A similar pattern is seen in presidential approval ratings, which correlate with the president’s party’s fortunes in midterm elections. In the modern era, Presidents with approval ratings below 50% have lost an average of 41 House seats in mid-term elections. Moreover, most presidents saw their approval rating drop in the second year of their presidency — on average by five percentage points. The two biggest sophomore slumps belong to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Obama’s trajectory to date is similar to that of Carter and Reagan; his approval numbers are unlikely to improve before the midterms, even under a fairly rosy economic scenario. And we have now reached the point where about half the public blames Obama in part for the economy.

In sum, the trendlines for Democrats are bad, and — barring a major, unforeseen event — unlikely to improve by November. Democrats spent a year pretending they had a left-wing mandate and running roughshod over public opinion. It seems unlikely that anything they do in the next three months will prevent the concrete from hardening around their ankles.