In a summer of increasingly bad political news for Democrats and President Barack Obama, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll delivers some of the worst: the poll now shows the GOP with 9 point edge among likely voters — a figure that is actually 18 percent if you focus on those who say they’re most interested in voting.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal notes that political scientists are forecasting big losses for Democrats. The one glimmer of hope for Democrats: the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that the Democrats could stave off big losses if they get enough Democrats out there to the polls.
And the “if” at this point almost as big as says “if the unemployment rate could just get down to 9 percent by October.”
Here’s what the poll says:
A combination of sky-high GOP enthusiasm, a deep sense of pessimism about the country’s direction and dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama’s stewardship of the economy has given Republicans a clear advantage heading into the November midterm elections, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
With the Labor Day holiday marking the traditional starting point of the campaign season, Republicans have a nine-point edge among those considered likely voters, plus a near 20-point lead among those expressing the highest amount of interest in the midterms.
In addition, six in 10 believe the country is on the wrong track; nearly two-thirds think the nation is in a state of decline; and a similar number aren’t confident that their children’s generation will enjoy a better life.
Perhaps more ominous for Democrats, the number of Americans who approve of Obama’s handling of the economy — the top issue in the country — has declined below 40 percent for the first time.
“We all know that there is a hurricane coming for the Democrats,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “We just don’t know if it will be a Category 4 or a Category 5.”
And here is the glimmer of hope:
The survey shows that among likely voters — based on their interest and past voting history — 49 percent prefer a Republican-controlled Congress while 40 percent want one run by Democrats. Among those expressing a high interest in voting, that GOP lead increases 18 points, 53 percent to 35 percent.
Among all registered voters, however, both parties are tied on the generic ballot, 43 percent to 43 percent, suggesting that Democrats could potentially blunt GOP gains in November with high turnout at the polls.
But right now, according to the poll, the interest level in the midterms is down among Democrats, African-Americans and younger Americans compared to 2006, when the Democratic Party won control of both the House and Senate.
If Democrats lose control of Congress, Hart argues, it’s “because they didn’t vote.”
Besides focusing on Election Day turnout, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that Democrats could also find success by stressing unpopular connections within the Republican Party.
For starters, 68 percent of respondents say they’re uncomfortable or have reservations about candidates who support phasing out Social Security and would allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market.
That position — shared by Republicans like Senate nominees Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska — ranks worst on the poll’s list of nine candidate attributes.
The second worst: support of George W. Bush’s economic policies. Sixty-two percent of survey takers had problems with that political trait.
Pulling that off would require political nimbleness.
And fight now the Democratic party and the Obama White House in particular seem about as nimble as the Titanic trying to pull out of a long, deep sink.
And the political context looks bad, too. The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal:
With the midterm elections now just nine weeks away, a group of political scientists gathered for a conference in Washington D.C. this weekend forecast significant losses for the Democrats. Three of the five forecasts predicted that Republicans will gain majority control of the House of Representatives.
The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), which featured nearly 5,000 participants and close to 900 panel and roundtable sessions, was about far more than election forecasting. Those most interested in the 2010 campaigns, however, gravitated to a Saturday session in which five political scientists presented the latest results from their forecasting models, some of which have been in development for 30 years or more.
Democrats currently hold a 256 to 179 seat advantage, so Republicans need to win at least 39 seats to gain majority control. Three of the models, two of which draw on national polls measuring whether voters plan to support the Democrat or Republican candidate in their district, point to Republicans picking up between 49 and 52 seats in the House, more than enough to win majority control.
The bottom line: all of this taken together suggests that only a massive get-out-the-vote operation, getting some voters to the polls who voted for the Democrats in 2008, could help the Democrats stave off what polls and political scientists (including by the way the country’s most reliable political scientist analyst, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato who has predicted a virtual political Katrina) believe will be Democratic political catastrophie.
And that would assume that all or most of these voters would vote Democratic this November.
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UPDATE: Time’s Mark Halperin, looking at this and other polls, summarizes the polls’ perceptions in what he calls a “White House nightmares:”
Obama seen as liberal, agent of no change by many, GOP leads in generic ballot questions, bottom falling out of trust on the economy.
UPDATE II: When it rains it pours:
—A new CNN poll gives the GOP an advantage on the economy:
Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats on the economy, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday indicates that 46 percent of Americans say that Republicans in Congress would do a better job dealing with the economy, with 43 percent saying that Congressional Democrats would do a better job on the top issue on the minds of Americans. The GOP’s three point advantage is within the poll’s sampling error.
The Republicans three point edge is a big shift from last year, when the Democrats held a 52 to 39 percent advantage. The GOP leads 51 to 32 percent on the economy among Independents, and they have a nine point advantage on the issue among voters 65 and older.
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.