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DNC memo on midterm prospects

DNC Memo

From: Brad Woodhouse, Communications Director, Democratic National Committee
To: Interested Parties
Date: July 15, 2010
RE: Putting Voter Sentiment and Recent Polls in their Proper Perspective


Voter Support for Democrats Exceeds Support for Party in Power in 1994 and 2006

While history would suggest that the 2010 elections stand to be challenging for Democrats, a variety of recent polls suggest that the barriers to success for Democratic candidates this year may not be as high as some have suggested. While pundits are now commonly comparing this year's elections to those of 1994 and 2006, years in which the minority party took control of Congress, voters today express greater support for Democratic leaders and more trust in Democratic leadership than for the political party in power in either of those election cycles. In fact, an analysis of the relative strength of the party in power, the temperature readings of the incumbent president and the approval ratings and generic ballot tests for the party out of power for 1994, 2006 and 2010 proves that comparisons between those previous election cycles and today are at best poor.

President Obama is much more popular than President Bush was in 2006 or President Clinton was in 1994.

According to a Washington Post/ABC Poll: President Obama's approval rating is 50%-47% [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10], while a Bloomberg poll measured President Obama's approval at 52%-44% [Bloomberg Poll, 7/14/10].

In comparison, a November 2006 Washington Post/ABC poll measured President Bush's approval at 40%-57% [ABC/WP Poll, 10/13/08] and, according to an October 1994 Gallup poll, President Clinton's approval rating that fall was 41%-52% [Gallup President Approval Rating Index]. Considering the current state of the economy, a country engaged in two wars, the oil spill in the Gulf and united and politically motivated Republican obstruction in Congress, President Obama's job approval ratings remain relatively strong and are much stronger than either those of President Clinton or President Bush when their party's lost control of Congress.

Similarly, more voters trust the President and Congressional Democrats to lead the country than trust Republicans to do so.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 43% of voters have confidence in the President and 32% have confidence in Congressional Democrats to make the right decisions for the country's future. In comparison, only 26% have confidence in Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions for the country's future. [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10] While much has been made of the result on this question for the President, politics is a comparative exercise and President Obama and Congressional Democrats remain in a stronger position with the public and are held in higher esteem than are Republicans.

In fact, on what may be the most important issue of this election - the economy - Democrats lead Republicans in voter trust, and do so by a similar margin to Democrats in 2006 and a larger margin than Republicans in 1994.

According to a Washington Post/ABC poll, registered voters trust Democrats over Republicans 42% to 34% to do a better job handling the economy, an 8 point margin [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10].

In October 2006, when the Washington Post/ABC asked the same question, registered voters picked Democrats over Republicans by 50%-41% [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10], a nine point margin. And when they asked the same question in 1994, registered voters picked Republicans over Democrats 43%-38% [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10], a five point margin. So, in the two most recent elections where control of Congress flipped from one party to the other the party out of power held the advantage on the economy while the party in power holds that advantage today.

And voters don't just trust Democrats on the economy; they support Democrats' legislative efforts to improve the American economy and to move our country forward in other ways. And voters are more likely to support candidates who back the Democratic agenda.

A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found that 39% of voters are more likely to support a candidate who supports the Recovery Act, compared to 37% who are more likely to support a candidate who opposes the Recovery Act [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10]. Similarly, a recent Bloomberg poll found that 58% of voters are more likely to support a Congressional candidate that "supports spending government money to create jobs and stimulate employment," while just 24% said they would be less likely to support that candidate [Bloomberg Poll, 7/14/10].

According to NBC/WSJ, 51% are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate who says they will give health care a chance while only 44% say they would be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate who says it should be repealed. (NBC/WSJ, 6/21)

And a recent Bloomberg poll found that 45% of voters say they are more likely to support a Congressional candidate who supports "tougher regulations on Wall Street firms," while only 15% would be less likely to support such a candidate.

Polls Indicating Republican Electoral Potential Fail to Make the Case for a Major Republican Victory

Despite voter support for Democrats on key issue tests like the economy, some polls do show narrow support for Republicans over Democrats on the generic congressional ballot. However, Republicans hold only a tenuous lead in such polls, with generic support for Republicans this year nowhere near that of Democrats in 2006.

In the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, Republicans led Democrats on a generic congressional ballot by 47%-46%, a one-point margin with little statistical significance [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10]. In contrast, in an October 2006 Washington Post/ABC poll, voters preferred Democrats over Republicans on a generic Congressional ballot by 54%-41% - a much larger 13 point gap [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10].

Similarly, Republican cheerleaders have cited polling showing support for GOP control of Congress as an electoral boon; however, such polling has proven an unreliable indicator of electoral results.

In the current Washington Post/ABC poll, voters by 51%-43% say it's important for the GOP to control Congress as a check on President Obama's policies. But although a September 2002 Washington Post/ABC poll found that voters supported Democratic control of Congress "as a check" on Bush's policies by 56%-34%, more than 20 points, Democrats in that election actually lost seats [ABC/WP Poll, 7/13/10].

Conclusion

While many Democratic candidates this year may face tough races, polling suggests that this election is shaping up to be different in many respects than either 1994 or 2006, with Democrats in position to win close races across the country and to maintain strong majorities in both the House and Senate. In fact, Democrats today are in a greater position of strength than Democrats in 1994 or Republicans in 2006. Democrats have real accomplishments that benefit middle class families and small businesses to campaign on, an economy that is once again growing and creating jobs and a public that still remembers the disastrous consequences of failed Republican policies that cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for big corporations and cut the middle class loose to fend for themselves.

So after 18 months of Democrats governing while Republicans in Congress have stood on the sideline and rooted for failure, Democrats are in a strong position to begin the campaign season and present voters with a clear choice: keep America moving forward or going back to the same polices that created the worst economy since the Great Depression.

It's the long shadow of the failed Bush economic policies that is keeping support for Republicans at a near record lows and why support for Republicans falls short of support for the minority party in either 1994 or 2006.

Thus, Republicans' continued weaknesses and low approval ratings are helping Democrats turn this election into a choice between the two parties rather than just a referendum on the party in power. Despite the downcast assessments of Democratic political fortunes, we believe that this election stands to be different than so-called "wave" elections of the past and that Democrats have every reason to be hopeful that we can weather a treacherous political climate and maintain strong majorities in the House and Senate.

By Greg Sargent  |  July 16, 2010; 7:11 AM ET
 
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