New Poll: Has The Mighty Middle Awakened? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The pendulum swings

The political climate in the United States has been one of raucous partisanship since the late '90's and it has only escalated over the six years of the Bush administration. Results from the last two elections support the notion that the country is fairly evenly divided and that those who are aligned with either the Democratic or Republican Party are not apt to support a position held by the opposition.

In 2002 and particularly 2004, Democrats were baffled at the continuing support of President Bush and his confrontational approach to policy decisions and those who endeavored to explain the GOP success primarily attributed it to the large turnout by evangelical voters. I generally agree with that analysis but I suspect that the post mortem on the 2006 election will be focused on a clear and significant shift by moderate independent voters.

I've long felt that the middle (moderate, independent voters who are open to voting with either party) is responsible for major shifts in the country's political like the post-Watergate years and the 1994 Contract with America era. I also believe that this group of voters is far less volatile than the bulk of those who identify with one party or the other and they tend to row downstream with a party until their agenda and their policies become so unacceptable that they reach a tipping point. I suspect we have reached one of those moments given the latest data from the new Washington Post - ABC News poll.

Two weeks before midterm elections, Republicans are losing the battle for independent voters, who now strongly favor Democrats on the major issues facing the country and overwhelmingly prefer to see them take over the House in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Independents are poised to play a pivotal role in next month's elections because Democrats and Republicans are basically united behind candidates of their own parties. Ninety-five percent of Democrats say they will support Democratic candidates for the House while slightly fewer (88 percent) Republicans said they plan to vote for their party's candidates.

The independent voters surveyed said they plan to support Democratic candidates over Republicans by roughly 2-to-1 (59 percent to 31 percent), the largest margin in any Post-ABC News poll this year. Forty-five percent said it would be good if Democrats recapture the House majority while just 10 percent said it would not be. The rest said it would not matter.

The poll also found that independents are highly pessimistic because of the Iraq war and the overall state of the country. Just 23 percent said the country is heading in the right direction compared to 75 percent who say things have gotten off track. Only a quarter of independents approve of the job Congress has done this year and only a third believes the Iraq war has been worth fighting.

Independent voters may strongly favor Democrats, but their vote appears motivated more by dissatisfaction with Republicans than by enthusiasm for the opposition party. About half of those independents saying they plan to vote Democratic in their district said they were doing so primarily to vote against the Republican candidate rather than affirmatively for the Democratic candidate. Just 22 percent of independents voting for Democrats are doing so "very enthusiastically."

So my take on this group of voters is that they are generally skeptical of both political parties but they are also not inclined to making radical or precipitous adjustments. Members of both the Democratic and Republican party are apt to believe that these voters take far too long to decide that its time to toss out one group and enable the other...but I would argue that they are demonstrating what I might call the jurors mentality...they see the party in power as innocent until proven guilty. They sit back, evaluate the evidence, and then speak with a resounding and definitive voice. Again, I don't want to predict an outcome but I do like to study the factors and attempt to offer some informed speculation...and it appears that these voters are prepared to be heard.

The poll showed that Democrats not only have a significant advantage in Blue states (those won in the 2004 presidential race by Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts) but also have a narrow advantage in Red states won by Bush, which helps to explain why the number of GOP-held seats that now appear competitive has increased recently.

Iraq is cited most frequently as the most important voting issue in the midterm elections. Two weeks ago, 26 percent of those surveyed cited the war as the single most important issue determining their vote in November, compared with 23 percent who cited the economy and 14 percent saying terrorism. In the new poll, 27 percent say Iraq but 19 percent mentioned the economy, with 14 percent saying terrorism.

Independents are almost as likely as Democrats to cite Iraq as the single most important issue in the campaign. Both are twice as likely as Republicans to single out the war when asked about the election's top issues.

One would expect to see the strong Democratic support in predominantly blue states but the shift in red states is far more telling. I believe there is a bit of a misconception when pundits and strategists attempt to characterize regions or states. That is not to say that there isn't ample evidence to suggest that certain states or regions lean towards one party or the other. Nonetheless, I believe that the party in the majority is there because these independent voters have determined to cast their lot with one of the long as they believe that party has been prudent with the power they have been granted.

The South is a good example. For years it was solidly Democratic but it has now been solidly Republican for a time frame that loosely equates with the last major shift that occurred in the early to middle 1990's...when voters put an end to some 40 years of Democratic control of congress. What connects each of these shifts seems to have been the determination that the majority party had demonstrated an abuse of power...far more than any indication of a major shift in voter ideology. Let me be clear. We tend to pay attention to the extremes and our impressions of notable shifts in voter sentiment (ideology) is largely driven by recognition of the vocal nature of one of the extremes rather that a gauging of the middle and which party they have chosen to empower. In other words, we have a predisposition to conclude that there has been a major ideological shift each time one party is empowered but I think that may be a misattribution of where moderate voters actually stand on the left right spectrum.

Voters also continue to trust Democrats more than Republicans to deal with the war, as well as the economy and ethics in government. On terrorism, the two parties are at parity.

But independents, the key swing voter group, strongly trust the Democrats on all of those issues by margins ranging from 14 percentage points on terrorism to 23 percentage points on Iraq and North Korea and 26 points on ethics in government.

The growing independent support for Democratic House candidates represents a significant shift in attitudes since the 2004 election, when the Democrats held only a narrow advantage. In winning his reelection, Bush and Kerry split the independent vote (49 Kerry-48 Bush) and in the vote for the House, independents divided 49-46 percent for Democratic candidates.

One important question that will affect the outcome of the election is who shows up to vote. More Democrats than Republicans (32 percent versus 24 percent) say they are "very closely" following the campaign. Democrats are more likely to be very enthusiastic about voting. Independents show less enthusiasm about this election than do Democrats or Republicans.

Note the evenly split independent vote during the 2004 election and keep in mind that at the time, the GOP was viewed as the party of family values and felt to be more ethical. If you look at the current numbers on that issue, independents have shifted to the Democratic Party. More importantly, one cannot identify any significant shift on moral values issues on the part of the Democrats which supports my argument that their beliefs are frequently mischaracterized.

The fact that independents voted with the GOP for a number of years wasn't necessarily an across the board endorsement of Republican values and should the presumed shift to the Democratic Party take place in November, I would still argue that they haven't made a clear ideological shift. Frankly, I tend to believe that they would actually prefer that values issues be personal decisions and not an integral component of a political agenda...but they aren't usually offered that choice so they vote on the issues that they find meaningful and accept that they are attached to a larger agenda.

In my opinion, independent and moderate thinking voters appear to have made the conclusion that the GOP should no longer be in power and they plan to vote accordingly. Further, if my theory is correct, it shouldn't be difficult to predict when this group of voters is going to say enough is enough. We often hear assertions that voters are stupid...but if my speculation is may well be the politicians and those in positions of power that are guilty of stupidity. The bottom line is that it looks like that message is about to be delivered.

Daniel DiRito | October 23, 2006 | 4:46 PM
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1 On October 23, 2006 at 10:03 PM, Olin wrote —

Thank you for your comments on the subject. I enjoyed reading your post.
-Olin at

2 On January 22, 2007 at 3:40 AM, JD wrote —

I love the poll which gives options of "Iraq", "The Economy", and "Terrorism" as separate things to be worried about. I'm sure global warming and the energy crisis were on that poll too - completely forgetting the fact that these are all entirely related. What people tick in the box just displays the level of ignorance they're currently operating on.

Iraq - the stage for a war against the scapegoat "terrorism" which gambles the economy to secure resources for the future of energy.

The irony is that a benevolent yet sufficiently intelligent person with an inclination to an anti-war solution to this huge entangled problem would have to pick "the economy" as the biggest root of all of these problems which needs to be addressed - the same as a pro-war republican would choose. It's just the way in which they would choose to go about it that differs. Do we invest our precious last billions in development of alternative energy to save the economy and the planet, or do we send our boys across the planet to kill women and children in order to steal the dwindling scraps of oil save the economy.

Popular opinion polls are a farce...they promote such narrow-minded idiocy. It's no wonder americans are retarded.

Thought Theater at Blogged

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