Newsweek Poll Shows Dems In Strong Position genre: Polispeak

Where will they fall?

A new poll by Newsweek, conducted on the 19th and 20th of October, has little good news for the Republican Party as voters continue to favor Democratic control of Congress. As we approach the final two weeks of the campaign, the GOP will seek to focus voters on issues that have typically been their strong suit...but there is growing evidence that growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq may be too much to overcome.

Oct. 21, 2006 - If the elections for Congress were held today, according to the new NEWSWEEK poll, 60 percent of white Evangelicals would support the Republican candidate in their district, compared to just 31 percent who would back the Democrat. To the uninitiated, that may sound like heartening news for Republicans in the autumn of their discontent. But if you’re a pundit, a pol, or a preacher, you know better. White Evangelicals are a cornerstone of the GOP’s base; in 2004, exit polls found Republicans carried white Evangelicals 3 to 1 over Democrats, winning 74 percent of their votes. In turn, Evangelicals carried the GOP to victory. But with a little more than two weeks before the crucial midterms, the Republican base may be cracking.

Take white Catholics, swing voters who went for President George W. Bush in the 2004 election. This time 44 percent of them plan to vote Democrat versus 42 percent who plan to vote Republican. Among independents, 44 percent support the Democrat in their district, while 34 percent support the Republican. And voters have more faith in the Democrats to handle almost every major issue presented in the poll, which was conducted on Thursday and Friday nights through phone interviews with 1,000 adults: from Iraq (46 to 34), to the economy (50 to 35), to federal spending (52 to 29), to health care (57 to 24).

If one considers the voter turnout in the 2004 presidential election, any significant defection on the part of the GOP base...whether that be by voting Democratic or just sitting out the election could lead to a huge Democratic victory. Keep in mind that back in 2004; early returns had Democrats convinced they were heading to victory. While the final results demonstrated that Democrats had succeeded in significantly boosting their voter turnout, the results also confirmed that the GOP had been able to turn out an even larger voter constituency...largely based upon the evangelical vote.

As we approach the November midterm, it looks like Democrats are at least as motivated as they were in 2004 and likely even more anxious to get out and vote to defeat the GOP. Any drop off in Republican turnout could prove disastrous if current Democratic voter enthusiasm holds. As I've thought back to the 2004 election, I recall one particular view that was expressed before the vote...and that was the theory that it would seem likely that if those who had voted for Al Gore also voted for the Democratic candidate (John Kerry) and only a few GOP voters defected, then it would seem that the Democrats might well defeat George Bush. I think it was a good theory but it failed to account for the ability of the GOP to turn out millions of new evangelical voters...enough so to overcome the theory as well as Democratic enthusiasm to defeat the Republican Party.

If one assumes that Democratic enthusiasm will significantly turn out more voters and if current polling turns out to be an accurate assessment as to the dwindling GOP base, independent voter support for the Democrats, and an apparent drop off of evangelical support as well as concerns that many of them could sit out the election altogether, then this could prove to be the perfect storm for the Democrats.

Compared to the NEWSWEEK poll two weeks ago, taken in the aftermath of the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal, the Republicans seem to be closing the issues gap—at least on the issues where they have traditionally enjoyed greater voter trust than the Democrats. The Oct. 5 and 6 poll gave Democrats a lead on moral values (42 to 36), a stunning reversal of every previous poll. While Republicans have not retaken their lead on the issue, they have stopped their slide. In the new poll, 41 percent of Americans say they trust the Democrats more on values and 37 percent said they trusted the GOP more.

Likewise, on the war on terror, once President Bush’s signature issue. While Republicans have not restored their perennial lead over the Democrats, equal numbers of Americans trust each party more (40 percent for each.) Two weeks ago, the Democrats held a seven-point advantage. On immigration, 40 percent trust the Dems more, while 34 percent trust the GOP more. Two weeks ago the Democrats held a nine-point lead on that issue.

The poll found terrorism came fourth as the “most important" issue to voters, at just 13 percent; behind Iraq (31 percent), the economy (18 percent), and health care (16 percent). And a solid majority of Americans want the Democrats to take over Capital Hill, 55 percent, versus 32 percent who want the GOP to retain control—a 23-point margin.

I'm not typically inclined to make bold predictions but I do enjoy psychology so trying to gauge what might be in the minds of voters as we approach the election is always of interest. The GOP intends to run a new advertisement this weekend that many have compared to the famous LBJ commercial from the 1964 election in which it raised the possibility that Barry Goldwater, if elected, could choose to engage in nuclear warfare. That ad sought to play upon the fears of voters and the new GOP ad will seek to do the same thing. I have a suspicion that the ad is going to have the opposite effect on voters.

Here's my thinking. Voters have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11 and it seems to have benefited the GOP in 2002 and 2004, but I think we may be at a point similar to what is known as the boy who cried wolf point. Voters have been exposed to elevated threat levels, heightened security measures at airports, news conferences announcing the arrest of potential terrorists, and a general atmosphere of sensationalism that hasn't materialized into any tangible terrorist crisis.

At the same time, they are told that the efforts in Iraq are making progress and that the insurgency is in its final throes...all the while U.S. casualties grow and nightly reports detail the expanding sectarian violence that indicates the country is moving towards full scale civil war. I see that as a dangerous combination for the GOP and one that leads voters to conclude that much of what is disseminated from the Bush administration cannot be taken at face value...and may well not be accurate.

Therefore, I'm inclined to think that this new ad will simply anger voters who feel that they have been played by this President and the ad may turn out to be the defining moment in crystallizing voter sentiment against more of the same from the GOP. To say it another way, you can't tell voters to be afraid of their shadows on a daily basis while at the same time telling them that we're winning the war in Iraq and don't worry about the casualties and the civil war that's brewing. Voters are smarter than that and at some point they resent being insulted.

My dad tells a story about WWII that seems to apply today. He used to go to the movies with his grandfather and before screening the movie they would show newsreels that discussed the war efforts. Essentially, they were propaganda pieces meant to encourage Americans that the war effort was going well. My dad’s grandfather, who had grown up in Italy and witnessed the trauma of war didn't like the newsreels. My dad says that his grandfather would ridicule the newsreels with his own sarcastic explanation of the war that went something like this. He would say that every American bullet would hit its target and kill the enemy, but that each time a German soldier shot his weapon, the bullets would fall harmlessly to the ground and the American soldiers would pick them up and eat them because they were candy.

It seems to me that many Americans may have reached the same point as my father’s grandfather with regards to the war on terror and the war in Iraq...the math just doesn't work and most voters have come to that conclusion. Regardless, we'll know for sure soon enough.

Daniel DiRito | October 21, 2006 | 9:07 AM
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