A new Gallup Poll shows that an almost-record-setting anti-Democratic sentiment is what is fueling what pollster and experts are right now saying is shaping up to be a major Democratic party wipe out on election day.
And the findings aren’t hopeful for those who’ve advocated a more affirmative kind of politics than the country has seen in the early 21st century: it is clear evidence that negatively characterizing the other party and its party is a successful formula to success. Of course it helps if the other party is not delivering on a key assignment given to it by voters — in the case of the Democrats to fix the economy, unemployment in particular. But it is yet another tidbit that suggests politicians will increasingly conclude going negative is the best path to gain or maintain power:
The Republicans’ lead in the congressional generic ballot over the past month may be due as much to voters’ rejecting the Democrats as embracing the Republicans. Among voters backing Republican candidates, 44% say their preference is “more a vote against the Democratic candidate,” while 48% say it is “more a vote for the Republican candidate.”
These results are based on the Aug. 27-30 USA Today/Gallup poll. Overall, the poll shows 49% of all registered voters preferring the Republican candidate in their district and 43% the Democratic candidate, using Gallup’s generic congressional ballot. Republicans also led on the generic ballot, by a slightly larger 51% to 41% margin, in Gallup Daily tracking the week of Aug. 23-29.
The 44% of Republican voters who say they are voting more against the Democratic candidate exceeds the level of negative voting against the incumbent party that Gallup measured in the 1994 and 2006 elections, when party control shifted (from the Democrats to the Republicans after the 1994 elections and from the Republicans to the Democrats after the 2006 elections).
In the fall of 1994, just prior to that year’s elections, 34% of Republican voters said they were voting against the Democratic candidate rather than for the Republican candidate. There was a slightly higher proportion of negative voting in 2006, when 38% of Democratic voters said they were casting a ballot against the Republican candidate.
What does it mean? Look for the Democrats to try to pull out all stops to stop at least some of the lethal bleeding based on dissatisfaction with its and Obama’s performance . And this poll suggests the way to do that is to go strongly negative to get out the party’s base. GOPers delighted by this poll should brace themselves since more than ever it shows a clear path for the Democrats when they’re out of power as well. Part of this poll is due to the Democrats’s performance, the GOP’s successful strategy in Congress and the triumph of the talk radio political culture.
Gallup sees these implications:
Gallup finds a higher proportion of voting against the incumbent party than in past midterm election cycles, with close to half of Republican voters saying their vote is based on opposition to the Democrats. This reflects frustration with the direction of the country under President Obama and the Democratic Congress — the poll finds 20% of Americans satisfied with the way thing are going in the country. Along the same lines, 35% of registered voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes President Obama, while a smaller 27% say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports him.
Thus, it would appear the outcome of the elections hinge on how voters evaluate the performance of President Obama and the Democratic Party. To the extent that Democrats can improve these evaluations, they may be able to reduce the proportion of negative voting against their party and reduce the share of the Republican vote as well. The Republicans may strive to give voters reasons to vote “for” them, but the examples of past midterm elections suggest that negative voting may be the pivotal factor.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.