Both Parties Miss Mark: Poll Shows Voter Savvy genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Voters sharpen the pencil

The latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll indicates that the recent string of speeches by the President have improved both his approval ratings and the prospects of the Republican Party to hold control of the House and the Senate. The data adds substantiation to other recent polling that seems to be trending in favor of the GOP. Nonetheless, the election is still far enough away that the trending could once again shift in the midst of numerous volatile issues.

WASHINGTON — Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year.

The poll also showed likely voters evenly divided between Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress, 48%-48%. Among registered voters, Democrats had a 51%-42% advantage.

The new findings reflect "a consistent, persistent, tenacious effort to make ... the Republican Party's ability to deal with terrorism the No. 1 issue in the campaign," said political scientist Richard Eichenberg of Tufts University, who has studied presidential job ratings during wartime. He called it "a carbon copy" of the successful 2004 playbook.

The new poll found likely voters more prone to vote for candidates who support Bush on terrorism, 45%-28%, and evenly divided on those who support and oppose Bush on Iraq. More than a quarter said Iraq is their top concern this fall. For the first time since December 2005, a majority of people did not say the war there was a mistake; the split was 49%-49%.

The most troubling data in the above excerpt is the comparison of voter preferences based upon terrorism and on the war in Iraq. Clearly, the Republican Party intends to make the war on terror the focal point of their campaign, a tactic that proved successful in 2002 and 2004 and that Thought Theater has argued is perhaps the most powerful factor influencing the voter psyche...a phenomenon that is supported by the scientific findings related to a psychological construct called "Terror Management Theory".

On the other hand, Democrats have long argued that the poor handling of the war in Iraq coupled with consistent voter dissatisfaction with the President's lack of an exit strategy would propel them to victory in November. Unfortunately, the most recent numbers confirm the power of fear that is found in the GOP's repetitive efforts to raise doubts in voter’s minds as to national security and the Democrats ability and resolve to keep the country safe.

The current numbers show candidates who support Bush on terror are favored 45% to 28% while voters are evenly split on those who support or oppose Bush on the war in Iraq. Should the war on terrorism remain the focal point and the Democrats fail to offer a message that allays voter doubts, the midterm could prove to be a major disappointment for Democrats.

Thought Theater has long argued that the singular strategy of opposing the war in Iraq may well be insufficient to carry the Democrats to victory in November. Although the Democrats have positions on other issues that voters are concerned about, the recent attention given to the Connecticut Senate race, where anti-war Democrats sought and succeeded in unseating Joe Lieberman, may have given voters the impression that the Democrats are myopic in their anger with the war in Iraq...a position voters may well see as weak on terror given the President's success in connecting Iraq to the war on terror.

The Iraq war continues to be problematic for Bush. Six in 10 people said he does not have a clear plan for handling Iraq (two-thirds said the same for Democrats), and 56% said Congress is not doing enough to oversee U.S. policy there.

Three-quarters said Iraq is in a civil war, though the administration says that is not the case. And 58% said the U.S. goal in Iraq and the Middle East should be stable governments; 33% agreed with Bush's aim of democratic governments.

Some time back, Thought Theater offered the observation that while Americans thought the war in Iraq was being mismanaged and that a majority preferred that the U.S. devise some type of exit plan, they were unwilling to concede defeat and were open to continuing the war effort so long as the prospect of victory remained a potentiality. I continue to see this in recent polling data and I'm convinced that it is a key voter sentiment that will influence decisions in the ballot box.

I have contended that this unwillingness to concede defeat compelled Democrats to offer a tangible plan for Iraq rather than simply opposing the President...something voters want and should the Democrats fail to provide one, voters may well hold their nose and vote to keep the Republicans in power until such time as the Iraq objective can be achieved.

The last excerpt tells me that voters have a clear perspective on the war in Iraq...perhaps more cogent than either Party. They feel it is being handled poorly, they know what a civil war looks like, they believe Congress has failed to do its part in guiding and overseeing the executive branch, and they realize that the notion of exporting democracy to the Middle East is a Bush Doctrine that fails to recognize the realities in the region. Finally, they believe that Middle East stability is important and that a withdrawal that leaves Iraq in chaos may well be detrimental to the United States.

That, my friends, is one spot on analysis and suggests that voters have discerned fact from fiction with an impressive demonstration of acuity. Perhaps both parties will someday learn that the truth is, in the final analysis, the most powerful campaign strategy available. Don't hold your breath.

Daniel DiRito | September 19, 2006 | 8:32 AM
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1 On September 19, 2006 at 2:00 PM, McCain wrote —

Thanks for the comment on our blog, and your perspective on Bush's rising poll numbers. Next time you want a link back to you, just use the trackback option. Happy to accommodate.


2 On September 19, 2006 at 2:06 PM, McCain wrote —

That's RightLinx

Thought Theater at Blogged

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» This Is Amusing from Blue Crab Boulevard
I was thinking a bit about some developments today, like the jump in Bush's poll numbers (which I don't really think are all that important, as I explained earlier). But that brought to mind some earlier posts I had made about a whiff... [Read More]

Tracked on September 19, 2006 10:15 PM

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