Three Polls: Three Reasons For GOP Anxiety genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Follow the bouncing balls

With four weeks until the midterm election, the GOP is finding little evidence that they will be able to hold control of the House and may well be vulnerable to also lose the Senate. Three new polls suggest that the scandal involving Congressman Mark Foley's outrageous behavior with underage male pages and the staggering U.S. casualties that have many convinced that Iraq is fast deteriorating into full scale civil war may have sealed the fate of the GOP. In the poll from USA TODAY, the Democrats now have a 23 point lead over Republicans on a generic ballot.


Democrats had a 23-point lead over Republicans in every group of people questioned — likely voters, registered voters and adults — on which party's House candidate would get their vote. That's double the lead Republicans had a month before they seized control of Congress in 1994 and the Democrats' largest advantage among registered voters since 1978.

Nearly three in 10 registered voters said their representative doesn't deserve re-election — the highest level since 1994. President Bush's approval rating was 37% in the new poll, down from 44% in a Sept. 15-17 poll. And for the first time since the question was asked in 2002, Democrats did better than Republicans on who would best handle terrorism, 46%-41%.

Government corruption, Iraq and terrorism were the three most important issues. Along with their lead on terrorism, Democrats had a 21-point advantage on corruption and a 17-point advantage on Iraq. A 56%-40% majority said sending troops to Iraq was a mistake — the widest disapproval margin in a year.

The second poll, from the New York Times/CBS News, may provide some of the worst news for the Bush administration as it now appears that the concerted effort to make terrorism the focal point of the November election following the fifth anniversary of 9/11 wasn't successful. Further, voters now believe Democrats are as well suited to handle the war on terror as the GOP...a significant factor given the Republican's ability to successfully use national security to achieve wins in 2002 and 2004.

From The New York Times:

The number of Americans who approve of Mr. Bush’s handling of the campaign terrorism dropped to 46 percent from 54 percent over the past two weeks, suggesting that the president had failed to gain any political lift from an orchestrated set of ceremonies marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In addition, the poll shows that Americans are now evenly divided over which party they think can better handle terrorism, marking the first time that Democrats have matched Republicans on national security, despite a concerted White House effort to seize the advantage on the issue this month.

There has been no change since mid-September in the gap between Americans who said they planned to vote for a Democrat over a Republican in their own districts this November: 49 percent to 35 percent. But Democratic voters are more likely than Republicans to say they are enthusiastic about voting this November.

Mr. Bush’s job approval has slipped to 34 percent, one of the lowest levels of his presidency, posing a complication for the White House as it seeks to send him out on the road to rally the Republican base voters. Mr. Bush’s job approval rating has even slipped with his base: 75 percent of conservative Republicans approve of the way he has handled his job, compared with 96 percent in November 2004.

Frankly, the only favorable news in the poll appears to be that the lead held by Democrats in a generic ballot hasn't changed since mid-September. Unfortunately, that gap still leaves the GOP behind by 14 percent and it could get worse since Democrats appear to be more energized than Republicans. Lastly, the President's approval ratings now appear to have fallen below 40 percent after he had made some gains in the prior polling cycle.

The final tally of voter sentiment from The Washington Times/ABC News may have provided the GOP with at least some favorable indicators. GOP strategists have suggested that their candidates focus entirely on local issues in light of the news from Iraq, the Foley scandal, and the President's falling approvals and the poll seems to suggest that may be their best hope to prevent a Democratic takeover.

From The Washington Post:

On another measure, 60 percent of those surveyed in the new poll said they approve of the performance of their own House member. That compares with 49 percent in an October 1994 poll.

This number coupled with the advantages built into most congressional districts as a result of redistricting efforts to support the incumbent may help Republicans hold some of the seats that are too close to call. Nonetheless, if the Democrats are able to nationalize the election, then the news in this poll offers little encouragement to the GOP.

From The Washington Post:

The new poll suggests that there are few issues on which Republicans can hope to appeal to voters in the next four weeks. When respondents were asked which party they trust to handle various issues, Democrats led on every subject, by 33 percentage points on health care, 19 points for ethics, 17 points for the economy, 13 points each for Iraq and immigration.

Even on terrorism, which Republicans hoped to turn into a powerful issue this fall, Democrats led in trustworthiness by six percentage points, reversing a seven-point deficit in September.

There are also modest signs that Democrats have improved their posture among voters. For the first time, a narrow majority, 52 percent, said Democrats are offering the country a clear alternative direction to Bush and Republicans. While Americans are split on the performance of congressional Democrats -- 48 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove -- they are overwhelmingly negative about GOP performance, with 63 percent disapproving and 35 percent approving.

Bush's performance remains a potentially significant factor in the midterm elections, with 35 percent of those surveyed saying they will use their congressional votes to express opposition to the president, a new high on that question, and about twice the number who said they will use their votes to show support for him.

Clearly, the Democrats have been the beneficiaries of the GOP's misfortune in the last ten days. That said, one can easily see how quickly voter sentiment can shift. Given the fact that there are just less than thirty days until the election, it would seem to mean that the momentum could shift again...and more than once. I still feel that the Party that can dictate the dialogue into the final days leading into the November vote will have the most success. That success may mean different things to the two parties. For the GOP, holding control of the House and the Senate...even by the smallest of margins would be viewed to be a victory. For Democrats, given these new numbers, victory likely means taking control of the House with ease and at least coming close in the Senate. Stay tuned.

Daniel DiRito | October 9, 2006 | 9:52 PM
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