Six months before the 2014 mid-terms in which most polls show the Democrats are in trouble and could lose control of the U.S. Senate, Gallup has released a poll that could cause near panic in some Democratic quarters: it shows Republicans now ahead on the election’s top issue…the economy:
American voters rate the economy as the most important issue to their vote for Congress this year, and give the Republicans in Congress a slight edge over the Democrats as best able to handle it. Voters give four other issues lower, but still above-average, importance — the federal deficit, taxes, the Affordable Care Act, and income and wealth inequality. Voters see Republicans as better able to handle the first two, while Democrats have the edge on the latter two.
In times of economic crisis, the party ahead on the economy usually wins. How people are feeling the crunch — and what they hear from loved ones and friends about how they’re impact — often impact the outcome. NOT good news for Dems.
Gallup’s details underscore the challenges facing Democrats if they want to hold onto the Senate:
*Republicans clearly have an advantage on three economic issues, all of which voters place above-average importance on — the “economy,” the federal budget deficit, and taxes. The economy is the single most important issue tested, with 89% of voters rating it as extremely or very important. Forty-eight percent of voters say the Republicans can do the best job on the economy, while 43% say this about the Democrats.
*The other two issues to which voters attach slightly above-average importance are the Affordable Care Act and income and wealth inequality. Democrats have an eight- and 10-percentage-point advantage on these, respectively.
*Voters give the remaining four issues below-average importance. Republicans have the perceived advantage on handling foreign affairs, while voters give Democrats the advantage on immigration, same-sex marriage, and global warming. The Democratic advantage is particularly strong on same-sex marriage and global warming, although these two issues receive the lowest importance ratings of any of the issues tested.
Here are the implications, as seen by Gallup’s Frank Newport — which suggests the Democrats may have to throw out some red meat to get their base to the polls:
American voters have a clearly differentiated sense of which issues will or will not be important to their vote for Congress this year. They give economy-related issues, including the distribution of income and wealth, along with the Affordable Care Act, above-average importance. Hot-button issues such as immigration and global warming, and issues that have been much in the news recently, such as foreign affairs and immigration, have below-average importance.
There is universal agreement across party lines on the importance of the economy this year, and Republicans have a slight perceptual advantage as the party best able to handle the issue, perhaps partly stemming from the blame the voters may place on the party that currently controls the White House. On the other hand, opinions diverge on the importance of issues such as global warming and same-sex marriage, with Democrats much more focused on these issues than Republicans are. While these issues may not have broad salience, they may work well as issues Democrats can use to motivate their voter base — vitally important in midterm elections in which turnout can be as important as changing people’s minds about who can best handle an issue.
Meanwhile, there’s another anchor weighing down on Democratic hopes to at the very least hold the party’s own: President Barack Obama who is not giving the impression that he’s a political powerhouse who and and is willing to pull out all stops to help his party:
For months, President Barack Obama has been telling donors that there’s nothing more important to him than the November elections.
But many Democrats say their biggest worry for the fall is the president himself.
The problem, according to the nearly two dozen top Democratic operatives and outside allies who shared their frustration with POLITICO, is Obama’s investment — or lack thereof — in the midterms. The White House, they complain, has yet to broaden its economic message. The president has no set meetings with his political staff, and does little to help beyond headlining events to activate big donors. There’s no strategic direction.
Former President Bill Clinton and his staff have been getting regular midterm briefings from Democratic campaign staffers — including updates by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil, who’s flown up to New York to deliver them in person. Obama’s only conversations about races or dynamics with anyone connected with the main campaign committees, they said, have been limited to short chats en route to or at fundraisers.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel of New York hasn’t held a full briefing on House races for the president since last year. DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet of Colorado hasn’t had an extended conversation with Obama about the state of play since an Oval Office meeting at the beginning of February. Over 45 minutes between two rides in the presidential limo to events in Connecticut, Obama did grill Democratic Governors Association Chairman Peter Shumlin of Vermont about which races were realistic targets and what he could do to help.
That was March 5. According to the three committees, that was the last time Obama spoke with any of the campaign chairs outside of an event.
Throughout his presidency, Democrats have griped that Obama has never focused on anyone’s races but his own. This time — with the last two years of his term in the balance — White House aides repeat that he’s all in, insisting to operatives in the face of questions about the president’s engagement that he really is focused strategically on how he and his political operation can help…Politico
Since there are six months to go until the elections, you can’t say the dye is totally cast and that Republicans should be ordering cases of campaign and Democrats should be ordering make appointments with their shrinks…yet. Three things could happen to change the dynamic: (1) some unforeseen event that changes the way the parties and their leaders are perceived (2)something the Democrats do or say that tilts the election more in favor of them or against them (3) something Republicans might do or say that tilts the election for or against them.
In some past elections #3 has helped the GOP grab defeat from the tight jaws of victory. But the Democrats can’t count on that happening, and they’ve done some successful grabbing themselves.
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.