Thursday, December 31, 2009

Democratic Dropouts

Aaron Blake of the Hill reports that for the fifth time in recent weeks a Democratic recruit has pulled out of a race in a Republican held Congressional district.

Four out of the five were running in districts that went for John McCain last year and I can't say I blame them. I would not be surprised if Democrats don't win a single seat next year in a McCain district that they don't currently hold, and if they do win any it's not likely to be more than one or two.

With the possible exception of Jean Schmidt's district I don't think any of those candidates would have gotten more than about 45% in this political climate. The Michele Bachmann poll we did last week provided some evidence of that- even someone who just barely survived last year with 46% of the vote was up in the mid-5os now with the way things have trended in a Republican direction,

With the number of competitive seats Democrats already hold that they're going to have to fight to keep next year it's hard to imagine there's going to be much in the way of committee resources for relatively long shot bids. They're going to have to be very selective about where they play offense, and it seems logical the places where they would do so are Obama friendly districts where perhaps they didn't have the right candidate to capitalize on the good conditions for the party in 2006 or 2008.

Soles' Retirement

Usually when an elected official retires it's bad news for that person's party, but R.C. Soles' decision not to seek another term is unambiguously good news for Democrats.

Polling data released by the Republican Senate caucus yesterday showed Soles trailing his potential GOP foes by 24-26 points. There is no doubt that if he had made another run for it he would have been defeated. It's still going to be a tough hold for Democrats, but you have to look at it as a toss up now rather than a strong Republican advantage.

It's a very similar situation to what the GOP faced with Jim Bunning in Kentucky earlier this year. Even though it's a Republican leaning state, his personal issues were going to let a Democrat win if he had decided to run for reelection. Once he decided not to run the seat went immediately back to leaning toward the GOP. Soles' district is a little more Republican than the state as a whole but it's still ancestrally Democratic and has a large Democratic registration advantage- the party has a much better chance of holding onto this seat now than it did a week ago. It will doubtless be one of the most competitive races in the state.

When an incumbent has as much baggage as Soles it produces exceptions to the rule that retirements are bad for the departing official's party.

North Carolinians on the issues

For the second year in a row the economy is the top issue for North Carolina voters as 2009 comes to a close, with health care making the biggest gain from the end of 2008 to the end of this year.

The economy and jobs registers as the main concern for 54% of voters in the state, down from 60% in December of 2008 but still in first place by a wide margin. Coming in second place is health care at 12%, a big move from a year ago when it was only the fifth most important issue to voters in the state, registering at 4%. Moral and family values and education are tied for third at 10%, relatively unchanged from where they were a year ago.

Looking back two years, to December of 2007, you see a larger shift in North Carolinians' issue concerns. Immigration was the choice of 11% of voters then but has basically disappeared for voters as a top issue, all the way down to 2%. The war in Iraq was actually the biggest issue for the state's residents at the end of 2007 at 30% but has fallen now to 5%.

As the economy became a bigger and bigger issue for voters in the state over the course of 2008 Barack Obama and Kay Hagan's poll numbers got better and better. But voters are seeing it now more as the Democratic economy than the Republican economy and if folks aren't feeling better about things this time next year Richard Burr will likely be getting ready for his second term and the GOP will have made gains in the General Assembly.

2009 issue results here, 2008 issue results here, 2007 results here

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Voting Time

Thanks for all your nominations, here are the finalists for where we poll this week:

-Alabama. There's been little public polling of the Governor's race but when we looked at it back in June it was pretty competitive. Is that still the case or have things turned against the Democrats there as they have in other places across the country?

-Connecticut. One word: Blumenthal. Time for public polling on whether this seat is one retirement away from going back into the safe category for Democrats.

-Florida. Disparate numbers on two recent Marco Rubio-Charlie Crist polls so it would be interesting to see another opinion.

-Illinois. Rasmussen showed Republican front runner Jim Ryan leading Democratic Governor Pat Quinn last week so I'm interested in some confirmation or non confirmation on that in addition of course to the Senate race.

-Massachusetts. There may or may not be anything to see here when it comes to the special election but we'd be interested to find out one way or another- and the Governor's race is looking competitive if nothing else.

Voting will be open until Monday morning and we'll go in the field Monday night with results starting to be released Wednesday or more likely Thursday.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dodd, Lincoln, and Reid's Common Problem

I think one of the most interesting political stories to watch in 2010 is going to be whether the trio of Democratic Senators who already have disapproval ratings over 50%- Chris Dodd, Blanche Lincoln, and Harry Reid- can actually get voters to change their minds about them.

Most of the time when we put out a poll for a politician who has a low approval rating a big part of it is a high level of ambivalence toward them, which is troublesome but much easier to overcome than avid dislike. It's a lot more possible to turn 'eh' feelings into votes than 'ugh' ones.

Jon Corzine's failure to get reelected showed that you can only get people who dislike you to vote for you to a certain point so for Democrats to keep these seats they're either going to need to be able to get voters to change their feelings about Dodd, Lincoln, and Reid- or run other candidates.

Politics is full of surprises and who knows what unexpected things will happen in the next year but if I had to pick three Senators running for reelection right now who will be cleaning out their offices at this time next year it would be Dodd, Lincoln, and Reid. Once voters have decided the disapprove of you it's very hard to overcome that.

Looking at the House

Could Republicans win back the House of Representatives next year? Yes, but it would take Democratic House members doing as badly at the polls as their party's Gubernatorial candidates did in Virginia and New Jersey this year.

Tim Kaine was elected Governor of Virginia by 6 points in 2005. This year Bob McDonnell won by 17, for a 23 point decline in Democratic performance from one election to the next. In New Jersey Jon Corzine was victorious by 11 points in 2005, then lost by 4 in his reelection bid this year for a 15 point drop in Democratic standing.

Average those out and between an extremely unpopular incumbent in Corzine and a woeful campaign by Creigh Deeds in Virginia you have a 19 point decline on the margin for the Democrats.

There are 51 seats in the House currently held by Democrats who won by 19 points or fewer last year. Assuming that Democratic losses in places even where they didn't have remotely close contests last year (Bart Gordon and John Tanner for instance) are offset by Democratic gains in some of their apparent easy pickings seats (Joseph Cao, Mike Castle, Mark Kirk, maybe Jim Gerlach) then Republicans would have to win 40 of those sub 19 point margin Democratic seats, or 78%.

Of course the vast majority of those Democratic incumbents will have something working for them that Creigh Deeds didn't (having been elected to their seats before) and that Jon Corzine didn't (it's unlikely many of them have 60% disapproval ratings.) So Republicans do have a chance at taking back the House but Democrats would have to be as incompetent in 2010 as they were in 2009 and that just doesn't seem real likely.

Monday, December 28, 2009

First poll of 2010

The time between Christmas and New Year's is not so hot for political polling so we won't have any new data out this week but come a week from today we'll be ready to get back in the field...where would you like to see us go for our first state poll of 2010? I'll take nominations for the next few days and put it to a vote starting late Wednesday or Thursday.

Whatever state we do, I'm pretty certain we'll finally get around to doing our Larry Kissell poll next week as well.

Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I've been in Michigan for the last five days and will be for another five and it's cold and snowy but it's home. Won't mind getting back to the south on Saturday though!

Religiosity and Politics

This is no great surprise but the relationship between religiosity and Republicanism in Pew's newest rankings of the most religious states is pretty remarkable.

14 of the 15 most religious states voted for John McCain, the only exception being North Carolina where Barack Obama just barely squeaked through.

At the same time Obama won 23 of the 27 least religious states, with the most notable exception being Alaska which is near the bottom of the list but still voted for McCain.

Those religiosity rankings are actually a better predictor of a state's Presidential vote than its party registration breakdown given the large quantity of Republican President voting Democrats, particularly in the south.

Looking at Sparks

With the news that Ron Sparks might get into the race on the Democratic side against Parker Griffith in Alabama's 5th Congressional District it seemed worth going back and looking at how he polled in the northern part of the state when we took a look at his Gubernatorial prospects earlier this year.

It was a mixed bag for Sparks. He led Kay Ivey 37-24 and Tim James 35-29 but trailed Bradley Byrne 35-31 and Roy Moore 43-35. With the exception of the Moore match up he did better in the 256 area code than statewide.

I don't know that Sparks will be able to win election to Congress, especially in what's shaping up as a pretty tough year for Democrats, but I think his chances of emerging from that race as a winner are better than his chances of getting elected Governor would have been.

Something important to keep in mind when it comes to Democratic hopes of keeping this district though- even back in June Barack Obama's approval rating in northern Alabama was 32%.

Allen/Webb Pt. 2

Last week George Allen opened the door to a possible rematch against Jim Webb in 2012. Two polls we've conducted in the last year indicate such a contest would be about as much of a toss up as you can have.

When we looked at it in July of 2008, Webb led Allen 45-43. This August, in numbers we're now releasing publicly for the first time, Allen led Webb 44-43.

Both politicians are pretty popular, especially measured against the present overall unpopularity of their brethren across the country right now. Webb's approval in the most recent poll came down at 50/37, and at 43/38 more voters have a favorable than unfavorable opinion of Allen as well.

The 'Macaca' incident certainly played a part in Allen's 2006 loss, but its being a terrible year for Republicans nationally may have played a bigger role. He would have survived in most other election cycles, and his present numbers are an indication that he's far from unelectable in the future.

A 2012 rematch would most likely be the most closely watched race in the country other than Barack Obama's quest for reelection, and it seems a pretty good bet the ultimate winner would be whoever's party won the Presidential race in the state. It would certainly be fun to watch.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bunning's Standing

Sometimes when an embattled incumbent announces their retirement they get a retirement approval bounce but such is not the case for Kentucky's Jim Bunning.

29% of voters in the state now like the job he's doing, compared to 28% when we looked at the state in April. Bunning has actually seen a small bump in approval with Democrats from 16% to 19%, but with independents he's dropped from 36% to 28%, just further confirmation that his retirement was a very good thing for GOP hopes of holding onto his seat.

I'm sure Bunning's being AWOL on the health care vote this week will not do anything to make his constituents feel more charitably toward him.

Bunning's seat is one that went from leaning Democratic to leaning Republican as soon as he retired. You have to wonder if a Chris Dodd retirement would have the same effect. I think our first poll of 2010 will probably be a look at how Richard Blumenthal would do as the party's Senate nominee.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

North Carolina and the Economy

There are more North Carolinians now saying they are 'very worried' about the economy than there were a year ago. 56% of voters on our most recent poll expressed that sentiment, compared to 51% who voted in the November 2008 election.

Last year Democrats cleaned up with that group, with Barack Obama winning 54% of their votes, Bev Perdue getting 56%, and Kay Hagan getting 57%. It's a completely different story now with Obama getting a 28% approval rating from those voters, Perdue's at 16%, and Hagan's at 19%.

To some extent this is because of the power shift in Washington. Last year with Republicans in control of the White House Democrats were more likely to be 'very worried' about the economy and now with Obama as President it's the GOP voters who are more inclined to feel that way. Currently 78% of Republicans, 61% of independents, and 39% of Democrats say they are 'very worried.'

Nevertheless, if more than half of voters in North Carolina continue to be very worried about the economy at this time in ten months 2010 will be a very bad election year for Democrats in the state. Voters don't really care what the economists say about whether things are getting turned around- they need to feel it at the household level to believe it. If they do Democrats will probably hold serve, but if they don't it will be a different party in power getting the blame this time around.

Observations from MN-6

Minnesota's 6th Congressional District is not exactly a bellwether for the state. Last year Barack Obama lost by eight points there while winning ten points statewide. But we took a look toward the 2010 Governor's race there, as well as Tim Pawlenty's standing and it probably does tell us something looking toward next year.

-Norm Coleman is damaged goods. Even in Minnesota's most Republican district, more voters (42%) have an unfavorable than favorable (41%) opinion of him. His statewide numbers are likely to be much more brutal than that. Keep in mind Coleman still leads Mark Dayton and RT Rybak by 13-14 points in the district in hypothetical contests but that's probably got more to do with its GOP leaning nature and Coleman's superior name recognition than anything else. Coleman will have to do some serious rehabilitation of his image if he decides to jump in the race.

-Minnesotans don't want Tim Pawlenty to run for President in 2012. Even though Pawlenty has a solid 52/39 approval spread in MN-6, only 32% of its voters would like to see him make a bid for the White House to 50% who are opposed. This backs up a Star Tribune poll finding from September that found just 30% of Minnesotans statewide keen on a Pawlenty run.

-RT Rybak is more popular than Mark Dayton. That was one of our findings when we looked at the Governor's race back in July and it's confirmed again on this poll. Rybak's favorability at 29/34 is a net 14 points better than Dayton's at 25/44 (and remember again that this is the most Republican district in the state, Rybak's numbers aren't in negative territory statewide- Dayton's might be.) Rybak is also more popular within his party at 57% favorability to Dayton's 48%.

The biggest takeaway is that there is no overwhelmingly popular clear front runner for Governor. And we probably already knew that.

Full results here

Republicans favored in Kentucky

Barack Obama's approval rating in Kentucky is only 35%. Support for his health care plan is just 28%. 56% of voters in the state think that Congressional Democrats are too liberal and only 26% have a favorable opinion of them.

Measured against that brutal political context it is perhaps no surprise that Trey Grayson and Rand Paul lead Jack Conway and Dan Mongiardo by margins ranging from 6 to 9 points in the race to replace Jim Bunning in the US Senate.

Grayson does slightly better than Paul in the general election match ups, leading Conway 40-33 and Mongiardo 44-35. Paul leads both by identical 42-36 margins. Democrats are rooting for Paul to win the Republican nomination because they think he'll be easier to pick off in the general election but at least for now there's not a large difference in the viability of the two Republicans.

PPP matched Grayson against Conway and Mongiardo back in April and the difference between how the numbers stacked up then and how they stack up now says a lot about how much the political context has changed nationally over the last half of 2009. Grayson's margin has improved by 10 points against Conway, who he trailed 37-33 in the spring, and by 5 points against Mongiardo, who he led 40-36 on the earlier poll.

The Republican candidates are benefiting from overwhelming support by independents, holding leads ranging from 25-34 points with that group in each of the possible match ups. As is usually the case in Kentucky where a lot of registered Democrats don't actually vote Democratic, particularly at the federal level, the GOP is also a lot more unified than the Democrats. Grayson and Paul win between 69-75% of the Republican vote while Mongiardo and Conway are polling at just 54-61% of the Democratic vote.

It would certainly be premature to write off this seat for the Democrats though. There are a lot of undecideds and it seems unlikely the national political climate could go anywhere but up for the party at this point- they may have hit rock bottom this month as the health care bill moves closer to passage.

Beyond that it's important to note that with the exception of Dan Mongiardo none of the candidates on either side has greater than 50% name recognition right now. 64% have no opinion about Grayson, 63% say the same of Conway, and the numbers are 51% for Rand Paul and 38% for Dan Mongiardo. The dynamics of the race could change a lot as the eventual nominees become better known and voters in the state react favorably to them or not.

For now though in a Republican state in what's shaping up to be a Republican year the Republicans are favored to hold this seat.

Full results here

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some recent PPP media stuff

Dean Debnam talked about health care this morning on CNBC.

I recently spoke with News 14 about the North Carolina Senate race (interview starts at about 1:30) and more generally about NC politics this morning with WBT.

Democratic Dissension

Parker Griffith's switch today is a good reminder that there are more people on the conservative side of the party spectrum unhappy with it than the liberal side, even though the left and the blogosphere tend to get more media attention for their unhappiness.

On our last poll 27% of Democrats expressed disapproval of the party's Congressional leadership. Out of that group 49% said they were opposed to the health care bill with only 44% in support, and 85% of those opposed said it was because the bill created too much government involvement in health care.

Also while 38% of all Democrats are liberals and 12% are conservatives, among those unhappy with Congress 24% are conservatives and just 21% are liberals.

Parker Griffith is more representative of the Democrats unhappy with their party than a liberal blogger mad about the loss of the public option.

That said, I don't think Griffith had any shot at reelection as a Democrat given the highly conservative nature of his district and it's probably better for the party to just lose his seat now instead of losing it after blowing a million dollars on it a year from now. I hate to be a defeatist but depending on initial numbers I'm not sure I'd spend a lot of money defending Bobby Bright, Walt Minnick, or Frank Kratovil either. The odds are very much stacked against them for reelection anyway and if they're not going to be reliable votes for core Democratic initiatives it might be better to spend that money elsewhere.

Bachmann and Herseth Sandlin

The diverging standings of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Michele Bachmann are a pretty good prism into the political landscape right now.

John McCain won both of their districts by 8 points.

They both voted against the health care bill.

They both have opponents with name recognition well under 50%.

They have almost identical approval spreads- +12 for Bachmann, +11 for Herseth Sandlin

But Bachmann leads her likely general election opponent by 18 points and Herseth Sandlin only leads hers by 7.

Tough time to be a Democrat.

Michele Bachmann's standing

Michele Bachmann may be controversial but for now she's also looking pretty safe for reelection.

53% of Bachmann's constituents approve of the job she's doing in Congress to 41% who disapprove. Her numbers certainly reflect her polarizing nature, with 86% of Republicans giving her good marks and 83% of Democrats saying they don't like her performance. But in a GOP leaning district and with a 51% approval from independents it all adds up to a pretty solid standing.

Tested against her potential 2010 opponents Bachmann leads Tarryl Clark 55-37 and Maureen Reed 53-37. The magnitude of those leads at this stage certainly has a lot to do with the Democrats' low name recognition, as 82% of voters don't know enough about Reed to have an opinion of her and 68% say the same of Clark. Bachmann's leads over them will probably get smaller as they become better known, but she is still over the 50% threshold considered safe for an incumbent.

Aiding Bachmann's standing is tepid feelings by voters in the district toward Democratic politicians. Barack Obama has only a 39% approval rating there after winning 45% of the vote in the district last year. He's popular compared to the Democrats in Congress- only 29% of voters have a favorable opinion of them and an equal 29% support the health care bill while 56% are opposed.

37% of voters in the district consider Bachmann's political views to be 'extremist' and 36% think she's too conservative, suggesting that the constituents who dislike her really dislike her, but most voters seem comfortable with her.

In what's shaping up to be a Republican year Bachmann's reelection looks pretty likely.

Full results here

Conway with a small lead

The race for the Democratic Senate nomination in Kentucky is a close one, but in an interesting twist the lesser known candidate currently has the slight lead. Jack Conway is up 37-33 on Dan Mongiardo.

Conway's 37% share of the vote may seem curious when you consider the fact that only 27% of primary voters have a favorable opinion of him. But when you combine the support from the folks who like him with that from the 27% of primary voters who dislike Mongiardo you have enough to give him the advantage at this stage.

58% of voters don't know enough about Conway to have formed an opinion of him, compared to just 33% who are ambivalent toward Mongiardo at this stage. 40% have a favorable opinion of the Lieutenant Governor to 27% unfavorable while 27% have a favorable view of the Attorney General to 15% unfavorable. One thing working to Conway's advantage is that he has a 48-34 lead with voters who like both of them.

Geography is playing one of the biggest roles in the candidates' support right now. In Conway's base around Louisville he leads 46-26, while Mongiardo has the 42-31 lead in eastern Kentucky. In other parts of the state the race is closer and there are higher undecideds.

This race seems more likely to be decided by personalities than issues or ideology and that's perhaps exemplified by the fact that Conway leads at this point with both liberals and conservatives, but trails with moderates.

These numbers just provide further confirmation that this is likely to be a close contest for the Democratic nomination.

Full results here

Paul leads big

If there was any doubt Rand Paul is a serious candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky it can be cast away. Our first poll of the race finds him leading Trey Grayson 44-25.

Paul is, as the conventional wisdom suggests, drawing his strongest support from Republicans who are unhappy with their party. He has a 54-22 lead over Grayson with voters who are unhappy with the GOP in Congress and a 54-18 advantage with folks who think the party's grown too liberal.

His support is broader than that though- he has a 40-25 lead even with people who like the job Republicans in Congress are doing and a 38-28 advantage with ones who are comfortable with where their party is ideologically.

Despite Paul's early advantage this race could change a lot between now and the election, primarily because neither of the candidates are all that well known at this point. A plurality don't know enough about Paul to have formed an opinion of him and a majority have no feelings one way or the other yet toward Grayson.

Among those who do have perceptions formed about them 39% view Paul favorably to 13% unfavorable and 22% view Grayson favorably to 15% unfavorable.

Paul's current strong standing certainly speaks to the increasingly favorable prospects for candidates running against the Republican establishment across the country, especially on the heels of polling last week showing Marco Rubio closing in on or even taking the lead against Charlie Crist. It's going to be interesting to see if a lot more of these insurgent candidates crop up as we turn the calendar to 2010.

Full results here

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bachmann Poll Preview

We'll release the full numbers on Michele Bachmann's political situation tomorrow but the bottom line is that as much controversy as she generates for her comments in the national media, her constituents just don't seem to mind.

Only 37% of voters in her district consider her political views to be 'extremist' and a similar 36% feel that she is ideologically 'too conservative.'

Most Democrats do hold those beliefs- 82% think she's an extremist and 69% think she's too conservative. But there doesn't seem to be much of a moderate wing within her district's Republican voters- only 7% of them think she's an extremist and just 11% think she's too conservative.

Given Barack Obama's 39% approval rating in the district and the 29% level of support for the Democratic health care plan it's a pretty good bet that Bachmann's constituents agree with a lot of the stuff she says that's painted as far out by the media. In this political climate Bachmann can probably keep on talking with relative impunity back home.

Outsider Electability

A lot of Democrats seem to be actively rooting for anti-establishment Republican Senate candidates Marco Rubio and Rand Paul to win their primaries in Florida and Kentucky respectively, on the assumption that their being nominated will allow Democrats to win those seats.

In this political climate it may be a case of be careful what you wish for though. The most recent trends show Charlie Crist leading Kendrick Meek by 10 points...but Marco Rubio leading Meek by 13 points. And the Kentucky general election numbers we'll release Wednesday show Rand Paul doing only one point worse than Trey Grayson against Jack Conway and three points worse against Dan Mongiardo.

In this climate voters are so sick of politics as usual that I'm not sure Rubio or Paul would be easier Republican nominees for a Democrat to knock off than their more mainstream opponents. And even if some Republican or independent voters do feel more uncomfortable with them than they would Crist or Grayson, is that going to outweigh their unhappiness with national Democrats in their voting decisions? We may have some interesting new Republican Senators in 2011.

McCrory's standing

A year after his near election as Governor we decided to take a look at what North Carolinians think about Pat McCrory these days and found some good news and some bad news for him.

The bad news:

-A plurality of voters have already forgotten who McCrory is- 45% say they don't know enough about him to have an opinion.

-Only 42% of Republicans have a positive opinion of him, perhaps lower than you might expect a year after he was the party's standard bearer. At the same time there aren't many- just 19%- who dislike him either.

-He shows his lowest favorability numbers in eastern North Carolina where Bev Perdue effectively made him look like an out of touch city slicker last year, helping her to win in many counties where Barack Obama did not have very much success.

The good news:

-More voters have a favorable (32%) than unfavorable (23%) opinion of him, something that neither the Governor or the state's two Senators could claim on our most recent survey.

-His favorability number is five points higher than Perdue's 27% approval rating.

-Where voters know him best- metro Charlotte- he continues to be incredibly popular with a 56/23 favorability ratio.

What does it all mean?

If McCrory's next move is for a Congressional seat- either Sue Myrick's if she retires soon or Larry Kissell's depending on what the lines look like after redistricting- he's in a very solid position. His continued high level of popularity in metro Charlotte would make him hard to beat in a district that focused on Mecklenburg and some portions of Gaston and/or Union and/or Cabarrus Counties. If Republicans get control of redistricting they could probably redraw the Charlotte area districts to get Kissell out (if he even gets reelected next year) and McCrory in.

It's a little murkier in terms of a future Gubernatorial run. A 42% favorability rating with GOP voters would certainly start him out in a better position than any other potential 2012 Republican hopeful but the numbers don't exactly scream invincibility. McCrory would likely want the primary field cleared for him if he was going to take another shot at Governor. Still a 40/18 favorability ratio with independents is impressive, and 21% of Democrats holding a positive opinion of him isn't bad either. It seems likely that if Perdue's numbers remain where they are McCrory would start out the favorite against her in a 2012 rematch.

Full results here

Obama's approval post health care

You can count me as one pollster who thinks that an immediate post-health care Obama approval bounce is very unlikely.

On our last national poll 97% of respondents who disapproved of Obama's job performance said they were opposed to his health care plan. Why would its passage with no Republican support cause those people to go back to liking him? If anything it could make them dislike him more.

In the long term if health care is signed into law and looks like a success it could help Obama and Democrats- but whether that visible positive outcome occurs by election day 2010 is doubtful and it's certainly not going to happen in the immediate future.

I think Obama's numbers are going to stay about where they are until people at the household level really start feeling that the economy is better- economists telling them it is will not do the trick.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 2010 Senate Picture

One thing, at least at this point, that's really interesting about the 2010 Senate picture is the sheer number of races that look like they will be competitive.

In each of the last three election cycles there were seven Senate races decided by less than ten points. But at this very early stage I would expect at least 14 seats could reach that level of competitiveness and seven of them are held by each side.

Republican held: Missouri, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana

Democratic held: Illinois, Delaware, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, Pennsylvania

New York and North Dakota could be added to the Democratic list as well depending on candidate recruitment. I'm still skeptical about California but we'll see.

Because there are so many somewhat competitive seats on each side of the ledger there really is an extremely wide range of possibilities for what could happen next year. Certainly in the last few election cycles most of the close races have all ended up going in one direction or another so you could see Republicans whittle the number of Democratic seats down to the low 50s if they have a good year as expected but if somehow things get turned around for Democrats to have a good year they could climb up well into the mid 60s.

Generic ballot still close in NC

Our polling continues to find that North Carolina voters are closely divided when it comes to next year's legislative elections, pointing to a close battle for control of the House and Senate.

Right now 43% of voters say they plan to go with Democrats while 42% prefer Republicans. Two major themes continue to present themselves in our legislative polling, which are that GOP voters are more unified than Democrats and that independents are leaning slightly toward the Republicans for next year.

88% of Republicans say they will support their party in 2010 to 76% of Democrats who say they will. Independents express a Republican intent by a margin of 34-32.

Two main takeaways from our ongoing polling:

1) As we begin 2010 Republicans probably do have their best chance since 1994 of grabbing control of both houses of the General Assembly. Of course a lot could change between now and November- it would have been hard last December to imagine things looking as dreary for Democrats as they do right now.

2) Between the US Senate race and a spirited battle for control of the legislature, it looks like North Carolina will have another highly competitive election season.

A lot of the most important work in determining whether Republicans can take over will occur over the next two months before candidate filing. The quality of the folks they run against incumbent Democrats and in open seat situations will go a long way toward determining whether they can take advantage of this favorable political climate.

More on the Politics of Health Care

Despite everything that's happened lately, as of last week, there were still more Republicans unhappy with their party in Congress than Democrats. 35% of GOP voters expressed disapproval of their leaders in Washington while 27% of Democrats did.

There's a big difference between the unhappy Democrats and the unhappy Republicans though. By a 77-12 margin the GOP voters mad at their party still plan to vote for it next year. The Democrats displeased with theirs only plan to support it by a 54-38 margin.

There's no doubt that disaffected Democrats are a bigger flight risk than disaffected Republicans, and a lot of Democratic members of Congress' actions seem to reflect that. The Democrats who say they might vote Republican next year are from the conservative wing of the party and so efforts are being made to placate them.

The question of course is how much those efforts will turn off voters in the much larger progressive wing of the party and cause them to stay home next year.

On an individual level it's more important to keep the conservative Democrats happy because if they vote Republican you're taking away a Democratic vote and adding a Republican vote whereas if you make a progressive Democrat mad and they don't vote you're just taking away the single Democratic vote. But if there are more than twice as many Democrats who stay home next year because they're disgusted with the party than there are voters who stay in the fold because the party didn't go too far to the left it's a net loss to the party.

Hard to know how to measure all that.

Tim Johnson's Standing

One of the more interesting findings in our South Dakota poll was that voters in the state are pretty evenly divided in their feelings about Tim Johnson, with 46% approving of his job performance and 45% disapproving.

It shouldn't be a big surprise that South Dakotans have mixed feelings about Johnson- he won his Senate seat 51-49 in 1996 and then won reelection just 50-49 in 2002. But he won an easy reelection last year against weak Republican opposition in the aftermath of serious health problems that emerged in late 2006.

Johnson's numbers compared unfavorably to those of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, perhaps because he has been more supportive of the agenda of President Obama and Congressional Democrats who sport 41% and 28% approval ratings respectively with voters in the state. Johnson has limited crossover support now, with 24% of Republicans approving of his job performance compared to 42% who approve of Herseth Sandlin. He has, however, maintained a higher level of popularity with the party base at 75% approval to 63% for his House colleague.

Johnson's numbers don't really matter all that much at this point though with his next reelection battle five years away. I think Republicans would have a slight advantage for this seat if it was up in 2010 but timing is everything in politics, especially when it comes to Senators. Look for example at the fate of Richard Burr- he squeaked in in a good year for the GOP in 2004 and now it looks like he'll stand for reelection in another good Republican year. If he'd been up in 2006 or 2008 he might have been as good as done.

Whether South Dakota Republicans like it or not, after not giving Johnson a strong challenge in 2008 they've got him for another five years.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Politics and Health Care

On our last national poll Democrats led 62-20 on the generic ballot when you combined Democratic and independent voters. I'm working with that metric on the assumption that the Republicans are gone already.

Of the folks in that group planning to vote Republican next year 86% said they were opposed to Barack Obama's health care plan, and within that group 87% said the reason for their opposition was that it created too much government involvement in health care.

It looks like those folks are going to end up getting their way to some extent now, but it's going to be real interesting to see if that actually brings them back into the Democratic fold, or if they were just going to vote Republican no matter what next year and certain folks in the Democratic caucus diluted the health care bill to save the favor of some voters who were gone anyway.

My guess is that swath of voters is going to vote Republican next year no matter what the final outcome of the health care bill is, which is another reason why Democratic leaders should be more concerned with keeping the base happy. But that ship may have sailed. Either way we'll be watching over the next few months to see if that 20% of Democrats and independents planning to vote Republican actually declines after they've been acquiesced to on health care.

Name Rec. Down Ballot

We've done polling lately on a variety of Lieutenant Governors/Secretary of States/Attorneys General and a Superintendent of Public Instruction looking to move up next year and we're finding an overwhelming theme that voters have no idea who these people are.

The only 2 out of the 8 we've polled on since Thanksgiving with greater than 50% name recognition were Attorney General Beau Biden of Delaware, who's probably known mostly for his family name, and Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer of South Carolina who was in the spotlight a lot over the summer because of Mark Sanford's woes and because of his propensity to get in trouble with a variety of different transportation modes (planes and automobiles anyway, not sure about trains).

This information is relevant because of the implications it has for candidate recruitment:

1) If you hear that so and so would be a great candidate for the Senate or Governor because he/she's a popular (insert down ballot state office here) you should probably ask the question, popular with who? More than likely the answer is a small group of party activists who follow politics closely, not the population at large.

2) There's not that big of a name recognition gap between low level statewide officials and candidates off the street who've never run for anything before, so if someone who meets the latter criteria has a better story to tell or better fundraising capability they may be a better candidate than somebody who's been in a low profile office.

Those things aren't breaking news by any means, but worth noting.

Here's the name recognition we've found for the eight down ballot officials we've polled on recently:




Name Recognition

Beau Biden

Attorney General



Andre Bauer

Lieutenant Governor

South Carolina


Henry McMaster

Attorney General

South Carolina


John Carney

Ex-Lieutenant Gov



Chris Nelson

Secretary of State

South Dakota


Jim Rex


South Carolina


Dennis Daugaard

Lieutenant Governor

South Dakota


Elaine Marshall

Secretary of State

North Carolina


Voters down on Wake GOP Commissioners

Wake County voters are not very happy with the Republican County Commissioners after they elected one of their own as board chair last week while one Democratic member was sick and another was in the bathroom.

46% of respondents said they generally disapproved of the 'recent actions' of the GOP commissioners to just 26% approving. When asked specifically their opinions on how the chair election was handled, 66% of voters said they disapproved to only 24% approving. And 62% of voters think there should be a 'redo' of the chair election when all members can be present to 29% opposed to such a move.

Predictably 83% of Democrats said they were unhappy with the handling of the chair election, but so did 62% of independents and 40% of Republicans. On the question of having a second election 82% of Democrats expressed support along with 56% of independents and 34% of Republicans.

This issue could have consequences at the polls for Republicans next year. Before any other questions about the commissioners were asked Wake County voters generally said they planned to vote Democratic at the county level by a 45-36 margin next year. Beyond that 56% of respondents said the way the chair election went down made them less likely to vote for Republicans next year, compared to only 22% who said it made them more likely to support the GOP.

The 2008 election showed a significant trend away from Republicans in Wake County, leading to the loss of incumbent GOP commissioner Kenn Gardner by a wide margin. The party's best hope for winning in the future is depressed Democratic turnout and it was probably a misstep to hand their foes this 'fair play' issue that could be used to energize otherwise lethargic/complacent Democratic voters next fall.

Full results here

GOP favored for South Dakota Gov

None of the candidates on either side are particularly well known at this point, but Republicans start out favored to keep the Governorship of South Dakota next year.

Nobody running has even 50% name recognition with the state's voters. Ken Knuppe is the most obscure with 82% of voters professing no opinion about him. He is followed by Scott Munsterman at 78%, Dave Knudson at 72%, Dennis Daugaard at 67%, and Scott Heidepreim at 57%.

All four of the Republicans lead the Democrat Heidepreim by margins ranging from 2-13 points. Starting out in the best position is Daugaard with a 42-29 lead. Knudson does next best at 39-29, followed by Munsterman at 35-30 and and Knuppe at 32-30.

Perhaps helping the cause of all the Republicans is the fact that Mike Rounds remains very popular. 55% of voters in the state approve of his job performance to just 32% disapproving, a strong performance in a time when many Governors are seeing their approval ratings deteriorate. Out of 23 Governors whose approval ratings PPP has looked at this year Rounds ranks in a tie for second in popularity with Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, behind only Mike Beebe of Arkansas. Having a well liked outgoing Republican incumbent should help the party's prospects for keeping the office.

Given the relative anonymity of the candidates at this point a lot could change as they become better known, but in a Republican state in a Republican year this office will probably stay in Republican hands.

Full results here

Obama on positive ground in NC

For the first time since July in PPP polling Barack Obama's approval rating is in positive territory. 48% of voters in the state like the job he's doing to 47% who disapprove of it.

Obama's numbers hit a low point of 45/51 in September before improving to 45/49 in October and 47/47 in November. Over the last three months the biggest shift in his approval has come among independents who disapproved of him then by a 56/39 margin and who still do disapprove of him but now only by a 50/46 spread. He's also seen a slight uptick in his reviews by Democrats, from 74/20 to 77/17.

Health care and Afghanistan are perhaps the two biggest issues on the table for Obama right now and public opinion on them may provide a clue as to why Obama's numbers have gotten better. Health care has been in the spotlight since the summer and the President continues to get poor marks on it from the voters, with 50% of saying they oppose his plan to 41% who are favorable to it. The initial decline in his numbers came as the health care issue heated up.

Getting more attention lately has been Afghanistan and Obama is getting much more support there, with 54% of voters saying they favor his approach to only 31% who are opposed. Even a small plurality of Republicans say they're with Obama on Afghanistan by a 41/40 margin.

Independents say they oppose Obama 51/37 on health care, but they support him 56/32 on Afghanistan. That may help to explain his improving numbers with that group- they turned against him when health care was drowning everything else out and they disagreed with him on that issue but now with other things on the table they're perhaps finding more common ground with him.

As Obama's first year in office comes to a close there's really been no change in his standing with the state's voters from election day 2008. He won by a point then, and he's got a +1 in his approval rating now. The people who voted for him still pretty universally like him, and the people who didn't vote for him still pretty universally dislike him. At least at the statewide level Obama shouldn't have too much of an impact on next year's election in either a positive or negative direction for the Democratic candidates.

Full results here

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

Afghanistan's been getting a fair amount of attention lately, but it doesn't seem to be having much impact on Barack Obama's approval rating.

Consider this:

-Among voters who support Obama on health care but oppose him on Afghanistan is approval rating is a positive 91/9 spread.

-Among voters who support Obama on Afghanistan but oppose him on health care his approval is a negative 84/11 spread.

Obama's stance on Afghanistan appeals to some of his usual detractors and has antagonized some of his supporters, but it's really not having much of an impact on his overall standing. People's stance on health care is a much greater indicator of their total support for him.

Looking toward 2010

This has been true for a long time but our latest national poll provides yet more evidence that next year's elections will be decided by which party can do a better job of getting its voters out to the polls.

People who voted for Barack Obama last year say they will go Democratic for Congress in 2010 by a margin of 80-7. In other words there are very few Obama voters switching sides so far.

In fact there are actually slightly more McCain voters expressing intent to vote Democratic in 2010. His supporters say they'll go Republican by a 78-10 margin. That may include a lot of southern Democrats who have a habit of supporting their Blue Dog members of Congress while voting Republican for President.

This is just more evidence there really aren't all that many voters abandoning Obama. His approval rating with people who voted for him on our last poll was 92%. But his supporters do seem to be somewhat complacent or unenthusiastic right now and Democrats got a taste of what that can lead to in New Jersey and Virginia this year.

Republicans should have a good year in 2010 and I'm sure many will interpret it as a repudiation of Obama. But I'm still inclined to think the biggest reason for the GOP resurgence will be Democratic disinterest, and that what happens in 2010 may say little about what will happen in 2012.

Thune safe

John Thune participated in two of the closest Senate races of the decade, narrowly losing to Tim Johnson in 2002 and then barely edging out Tom Daschle in 2004. It's going to be a different story in 2010, as Thune looks likely to win in a walk.

Thune's approval rating is 57%, with 35% of voters disapproving of him. The only Senators with better approval numbers than that among about 40 PPP has polled on this year were Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Thune leads a generic Democratic opponent 56-33, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why he doesn't have an actual Democratic opponent. He's got Republicans almost completely united around him at 86-9, leads 44-37 with independents, and picks up a decent 22% of the Democratic vote.

For all of Thune's popularity in the state though, South Dakota voters don't want to see him run for President in 2012. Just 28% are supportive of the idea with 55% opposed. PPP has found similar trends with Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota. Among voters who like the job Thune's doing in the Senate only 43% want him to make a run for the White House, perhaps reflecting a sentiment that good Senators are hard to find and you need to keep the ones you've got on the job.

For now it's clear that if South Dakota's going to be an electoral battleground again in 2010 it will be because of the House race rather than another close Thune contest.

Full results here

Lewis has a name problem

North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Kenneth Lewis has a strange anomaly in his favorability numbers: he's unknown to 78-89% of voters in every part of the state except metro Charlotte where 39% of voters have an opinion about 'him' and it's a negative one with 27% viewing him unfavorably to 12% favorably.

Lewis is from the Triangle so it seems a pretty safe bet the reason for his odd Charlotte numbers is that voters are confusing him with embattled Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who is not exactly a popular figure in the state's banking capital.

Lewis may need to invest down the road in some direct mail or Charlotte tv time to make sure voters in the area know he's not that Ken Lewis!

Hagan unpopular too

As Kay Hagan wraps up her first year in the US Senate she finds her poll numbers in a similar situation to the state's other major politicians- upside down.

36% of North Carolina voters approve of Hagan's job performance to 44% who disapprove. She gets good marks from 57% of Democrats but just 29% of independents and 9% of Republicans.

I don't get the sense that Hagan is particularly well known to most voters in North Carolina- her political fate has been tied up in things bigger than herself over the last two years. Her victory last fall had more to do with Elizabeth Dole imploding and general dislike of national Republicans than it had to do with herself, although she gets a lot of points for running a strong campaign that allowed her to take advantage of everything that was going on. At the same time her unpopularity now is more a reflection of voters being unhappy with Congressional Democrats in general than it is people being actively unhappy with her.

Nevertheless these numbers after a year may be an early indication that Hagan is not likely to settle into a long Senate career with easy reelections. Being a Senator from North Carolina is a low security job, and it's a job no one other than Jesse Helms has been able to keep for more than a single term in upwards of 40 years. It's looking like Richard Burr will have a struggle to stop that trend and Hagan may as well...but that's a long ways down the road.

Full results here

Burr in tough shape

Richard Burr's poll numbers this month are the worst they've been since June, and it's increasingly clear he's the most vulnerable Republican Senator in the country up for reelection next year.

A poll by the conservative Civitas Institute released yesterday showed Burr trailing a generic Democratic opponent. Our newest survey finds him with just a one point lead, 42-41, against a generic Dem and also finds his approval rating in negative territory at 35/37.

Burr's numbers had been improving through most of the second half of 2009 as the political climate worsened for Democrats nationally. After trailing by three points on the generic ballot in June his position gradually got better to the point where he led by 11 points on that measure in our October survey. Over the last two months though his standing has started to worsen again, as the advantage dropped to seven points in November and now down to just a single point.

Burr's fall is occurring with independents. Where he held generic ballot leads of 20 and 21 points with them on the last two surveys, he has just a 40-36 advantage with them on this month's poll. The conservative Civitas survey actually showed a generic Democrat leading Burr 30-23 with independents.

Burr continues to lead over all of his actual Democratic opponents. Elaine Marshall comes the closest at a 42-37 deficit, her best performance yet in polling against Burr. Kenneth Lewis and Cal Cunningham both match or exceed their strongest numbers so far as well, trailing Burr 43-37 and 45-36 respectively.

None of the Democratic candidates are particularly well known to the state's voters at this point. 81% don't know enough about Cunningham to have an opinion, 80% say the same of Lewis, and 69% do of Marshall. Looking toward the primary 28% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Marshall to 12% for Cunningham and 10% for Lewis.

To put the current state of the race into perspective, Elizabeth Dole led Kay Hagan 51-39 in a poll we conducted at this same point in the election cycle two years ago.

One thing that continues to hurt is Burr is his relative anonymity across the state. Although the media and pundits have commented repeatedly on the fact that Burr has been more visible than Dole was, only 38% of actual voters share that sentiment to 34% who think that Dole was more visible.

Regardless of the present dip in Burr's poll numbers 2010 is still going to be a far better year for Republicans than 2008 was. But because there are a limited number of vulnerable Republican incumbents this seat is likely to be a top priority for national Democrats, and it looks like North Carolina once again will have one of the most competitive races in the country.

Full results here

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't run for President!

The second part of our South Dakota poll tomorrow will show that while John Thune is very popular, voters in the state don't want him to run for President.

That's becoming a theme in the home states of the potential second tier 2012 GOP hopefuls:

-In July we found that despite a 55% approval rating only 27% of Louisiana voters wanted Bobby Jindal to run for President, with 61% opposed to the idea. Among people who liked the job he was doing as Governor just 46% wanted him to go for the White House.

-In September a Star Tribune poll in Minnesota found only 30% of voters there hoping Tim Pawlenty would make a run with 55% opposed.

-Our South Dakota poll finds that Thune's approval rating is 57%, but that only 28% of voters hope he'll make a bid for President with 55% opposed. Among people happy with his performance in the Senate only 43% want him to go for it.

There aren't a lot of popular politicians out there these days, so I guess the states that have them want their officials to keep on working on behalf of the state instead of trying to go national.

An uptick in Palin's prospects

Last week we commented on a strange conundrum: even though Sarah Palin's favorability numbers had improved only from 39/50 to 41/50 between March and December, her deficit against Barack Obama in a head to head contest had shrunk from 55-35 to 50-44.

Looking inside the numbers it's easy to see where that shift has happened. In March Palin led Obama only 72-18 among voters with a favorable opinion of her. Now she has a 92-4 lead with those folks.

Previously there were a lot of people who liked Palin but wouldn't commit to voting her for President- that reticence has now gone away.

That probably has a lot more to do with the rapidly increasing Republican hatred for Barack Obama over the course of 2009 than it does with people thinking more that Palin is qualified to be President but the reason for the shift doesn't change this basic conclusion: Sarah Palin's fans are taking her more seriously as a potential 2012 Presidential candidate now than they were at the start of the year. We wrote a fair amount during the first part of 2009 about how one of the big things Palin was going to have to overcome was people who liked her but didn't think she was fit for the White House and that's not as much of a problem anymore.

That said, I'd up her chances of ever being President from maybe 5% at the start of 2009 to 10% now. She still has half of the country disliking her with their minds pretty much made up, and that's going to be tough to overcome.

Herseth Sandlin's Standing

The Democratic brand in South Dakota is not very strong right now, and that has Stephanie Herseth Sandlin looking at her toughest fight for reelection since 2004 next year despite the fact that she herself is pretty popular.

52% of voters in the state disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance with just 41% approving. That makes him downright popular compared to Congressional Democrats who get a 60% disapproval rating with only 28% of South Dakotans giving them high marks. And when it comes to the Democratic health care bill that passed the House last month, which Herseth Sandlin prudently voted against, only 25% of voters are supportive with 59% opposed.

Despite all that Herseth Sandlin sports approval numbers that are well ahead of the curve in a year when the popularity of politicians has hit unusual lows. 49% of South Dakota voters approve of the job she's doing to 38% disapproving. Perhaps because of her health care vote Herseth Sandlin's standing with Democratic voters is a little weaker than might be expected- a 63/24 approval. But with Republicans her spread is 42/47, considerably better than what most Democratic members of Congress get across party lines.

When it comes to her reelection next year it appears Herseth Sandlin will have a competitive challenge from Secretary of State Chris Nelson. She leads him at this point by a 46-39 margin, but that's a close margin given that Nelson is an unknown to 59% of voters in the state. Among voters who do know Nelson 29% have a favorable opinion of him to 12% unfavorable and he leads Herseth Sandlin 49-43. So this race could tighten up as he becomes better known. Herseth Sandlin leads Nelson 76-11 with Democrats and 47-29 with independents and also holds him to a 62-24 advantage with Republicans. In a strongly GOP tilted state she needs every one of those independent and Republican votes that she can get.

Against a lesser known potential opponent, State Representative Blake Curd, Herseth Sandlin leads by a wider 52-31 margin.

Herseth Sandlin's standing is a good microcosm of the difficulties Democrats face this year in Republican areas. Even though she is personally popular and did vote against the health care bill, she still only has a single digit lead against a relatively unknown opponent. If Nelson turns out to be a good candidate this race will be highly competitive but it's hard to say there's really anything Herseth Sandlin should be doing differently- it's just not going to be easy in places where Obama and the Congressional leadership are so unpopular.

Full results here

Wrapping up Perdue's first year

As Bev Perdue's first year in office comes to a close there's really nothing positive that can be gleaned from her poll numbers.

Her approval rating is mired in the 20s, as it has been for most of the second half of 2009, and voters in the state don't think she's been improving her performance or that it will get any better in 2010.

Perdue's approval comes in at 27% this month, with 53% of voters disapproving of her. After her numbers plummeted between February and May they've remained very consistent, with her approval coming in between 24 and 30% every month since June and her disapproval registering between 49 and 55% each of those months.

A PPP analysis of approval polls on Governors last week found that Perdue is one of the eight least popular in the country. Her two fellow newly elected Democratic Governors, Jay Nixon of Missouri and Jack Markell of Delaware, found far superior approval ratings of 42/25 and 40/31 in recent PPP surveys.

Perdue's approval woes were spawned from the legislative session and difficult business of balancing the budget and there had been some speculation that her numbers would approve once that was in the rear view mirror. But only 18% of voters in the state think that Perdue's performance has improved since the legislators went home.

There's likewise little optimism from the state's voters that Perdue will learn from the mistakes of year 1 and do a better job in the second year of her term. Just 32% of voters express the sentiment that Perdue will do a better job in 2010 than she has in 2009 with 44% saying they think she will not and 24% unsure.

Perdue's fumbles in the middle of the year turned North Carolina voters against her, and nothing she's done since has changed their minds. It's pretty clear at this point that piecemeal, incremental changes in the Governor's way of doing business are not going to win the voters back to her. Something needs to change dramatically if she's going to get public opinion about her turned around, and while the exact nature of that is beyond my pay grade her team should be looking for it.

And regardless of how much Perdue might shrug off her poll numbers they do matter. Out of her fellow seven Governors in the 'least popular' club four are not seeking reelection next year and three are currently favored to lose their party's primaries if they do vie for another term. Perdue will likely be facing a choice between those two scenarios a year and a half from now if things have not gotten back on the right track. More immediately a Governor with an approval rating in the 20s doesn't have much political capital to get legislators who have to run for reelection in 2010 to do much of anything she wants if it's risky/controversial during the short session. Vulnerable incumbents are going to jump off her ship before it sinks them too.

It will be interesting to see if anything changes or if Perdue keeps slogging along.

Full results here

Monday, December 14, 2009

A tale of two health care votes

Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District and the state of South Dakota probably don't have a whole lot in common, other than the way they voted for President last year. John McCain took AR-2 54-44 and took South Dakota 53-45.

They also both have Democratic members of Congress who are likely to face their strongest challenges in a while next year. We released polling data on Vic Snyder's situation last month and we'll be putting out Stephanie Herseth Sandlin stuff in the morning.

Snyder and Herseth Sandlin diverged on the health care bill in the House last month- he voted for it, she against.

Looking at it purely from a getting reelected standpoint and not from what's right for the world she cast the right vote and he didn't.

Let's go inside the numbers:

-Among people who support the House health care bill, Snyder leads principal opponent Tim Griffin 86-3. Herseth Sandlin, despite voting against it, leads her chief competitor Chris Nelson by an 81-6 spread with those folks. So Snyder is doing eight points better on that front.

-Among people who don't support the House health care bill, Snyder trails Griffin 73-14. With that same group in South Dakota Herseth Sandlin trails Nelson 57-27. So she is doing 29 points better than Snyder on that front.

Herseth Sandlin faces very little in the way of recriminations from her base in spite of her vote, while Snyder now has little in the way of crossover support in the wake of his.

As you can imagine the sum result of that is that while our polls show both incumbents more vulnerable than normal Herseth Sandlin is in a stronger position than Snyder. I'm by no means suggesting that's all because of their health care votes but it certainly could be part of the equation.

I hope a strong health care bill passes and I greatly admire Snyder for his vote- it was politically courageous. But given that the bill passed the House anyway I'm willing to cut Democratic members who voted it against there a great deal of slack if it's the difference between being around in 2011 or not.

11 months out...

Things can change a lot in a year in politics...

This week two years ago we released a poll that showed Kay Hagan trailing Elizabeth Dole 51-39 and that showed Barack Obama trailing Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani by anywhere from 3-5 points. John McCain seemed so out of it at that point we didn't even bother to include him in the poll- of course a month later he was well on his way to the Republican nomination.

Those findings are a good reminder that everything can change in a year...or even a few weeks.

Of course we also put out a poll that week showing Bev Perdue leading Pat McCrory 41-39 for Governor, and that spread ended up being almost exactly the way it ended up 10.5 months later.

So some of what we're seeing out there right now really might hold right on through November...and some of it will probably change considerably.

Final Poll of 2009

Ok folks, based on your votes we'll survey MN-6 (Michele Bachmann's district) this weekend and now it's time to choose our final state poll of the year. The choices are...

-Connecticut. Simply because it's time for public polling on the Richard Blumenthal alternative.

-Georgia. I've put this option up a zillion times without it ever winning but after we found Jim DeMint under 50% on the generic ballot last week I'm interested to see if the same is true for Johnny Isakson.

-Illinois Primary. Doesn't seem that urgent anymore after the Tribune poll came out today but never anything wrong with a second opinion.

-Kentucky. This is getting a lot less polling than most of the other potentially competitive Senate seats for next year.

-Massachusetts. There probably isn't anything to see here but no harm in doing a poll to confirm that and we could also take a look at the Governor's race.

Voting's open until 10 AM Thursday.

Palin and the crazies

It is certainly not breaking news that Sarah Palin is the darling of the most extreme fringe of the Republican Party, but here's yet another data point on it: she's by far the most popular potential 2012 candidate with voters who disapprove of Barack Obama and already want to impeach him.

86% of voters who fit that description have a favorable opinion of Palin to 62% for Mike Huckabee and 49% for Mitt Romney.

That's a much wider popularity gap than exists among all Republicans, 73% of whom view Palin favorably to 57% for Huckabee and 51% for Romney.

By comparison, among Republicans who don't want to impeach Obama yet just 62% have a favorable opinion of Palin compared to 54% for Romney and 51% for Huckabee.

Romney is more popular with the reasonable wing of the Republican Party than the lunatic fringe, which probably hurts his chances at the 2012 nomination. Palin on the other hand is the most popular candidate at this point with both, but is considerably better liked by the crazies who already support impeaching Obama for...what I'm not sure.

If the 2012 GOP nomination fight ultimately turns into a two way race between Palin and Romney it will certainly be a fascinating referendum on the future of the party.

Democratic Retirements

There are, by my count, 13 Congressional districts outside of Arizona represented by a Democrat that voted for John McCain and where McCain did better in 2008 than George W. Bush did in 2004. In other words these are the districts that went in the wrong direction for Democrats even in a Democratic year and thus might really be hard to handle in what's looking like a not so Democratic year.

Probably not coincidentally 3 of the Democrats who have decided not to run for reelection so far came from those districts- Charlie Melancon in Louisiana and Bart Gordon and John Tanner in Tennessee.

It seems likely those folks saw the writing on the wall both from those hard election results and from their internal polling. We did a poll last month in the district of a 4th member of that group- Vic Snyder in Arkansas- and found him more or less tied with a bunch of guys who had no name recognition. I would not be surprised if it's a similar situation for some of the other folks on this list which includes:

-Jason Altmire and John Murtha of Pennsylvania
-Marion Berry and Mike Ross of Arkansas
-Nick Rahall of West Virginia
-Dan Boren of Oklahoma
-Lincoln Davis of Tennessee
-Allen Boyd of Florida
-Parker Griffith of Alabama

I'm pretty sure we'll go in and do a poll of either Rahall's district or Alan Mollohan's in West Virginia sometime next month to see what's going on there, and we may get around to looking at another of the Arkansas districts sometime soon as well. These may be hard holds for the Democrats even if the incumbents run again. If not prospects for holding them are really poor.

Generic ballot tightening up

Congressional Democrats are hitting popularity levels almost as low as the Republicans, and that's tightening up the generic ballot in our newest round of national polling.

59% of voters now disapprove of Congressional Democrats compared to just 28% who think they're doing a good job. As recently as October the spread was only 37/49. It's been an across the board drop for the party over that period of time. They've declined from 65% to 55% with Democratic voters, from 29% to 19% with independents and from 8% to 4% with Republicans.

The Republicans are still even more unpopular, with a 24/61 approval spread, but that's actually a slight improvement from a 21/61 mark in October.

Independents are extremely disgusted with both parties, giving the Republicans a 69% disapproval rating and the Democrats a 66% one.

Republicans have now pulled within 44-42 on the generic Congressional ballot, a six point improvement from a 46-38 gap a month ago. A key reason for the tightening is that Republican voters are more unified, saying they plan to vote for their party by an 86-7 margin compared to Democrats who are only committed to theirs by an 81-10 spread. Independents narrowly favor the Democrats 35-33, a reduction in their lead from 37-30 a month ago.

These numbers are another warning sign that Congressional Democrats need to get some things accomplished to keep the base on board. Their numbers aren't declining because of unhappiness from conservatives- that ship sailed a long time ago. It's because Democrats and Democratic leaning independents are getting frustrated at the slow rate of progress on key issues they care about.

Full results here

Friday, December 11, 2009

Taking suggestions/vote on which CD we poll in

A couple things for Friday afternoon:

-We're taking your suggestions on where we should do our last state poll of the year, which we'll conduct next weekend and release the week of Christmas. Leave your suggestions in the comments- as usual we're looking to do things there isn't a lot of data out there on, or if there is a lot of data please suggest new angles that would make it worth adding our polls to the pile.

We'll pick a few of our favorite nominations and put it to a vote starting Monday.

-Second, I said we would do a poll in a Republican held Congressional district to see the extent to which all politicians are seeing their popularity drop right now as opposed to just Democrats.

Here are the choices:

MN-6: Michele Bachmann's propensity for generating controversy made this one of the closest House races in the country last year and there's no doubt her opponent next year will again have plenty of money. At the same time this district voted 53-45 for John McCain.

NE-2: Barack Obama won a surprising victory here last year and Lee Terry faces another tough challenge from State Senator Tom White. Plus Omaha is one of my favorite cities in the country, even if my heart gets broken every time I go there (because UNC doesn't win the College World Series.)

OH-12: Pat Tiberi got lucky last year...his district went 54-45 for Obama but Democrats didn't have a strong, well funded challenger to him. That shouldn't be the case again this year and it would also be interesting to look at how the Senate and Governor's races are playing out in his district.

We'll have voting open until 4 PM on Monday, have a great weekend!

Appoint the most viable candidate

Today's Rasmussen poll showing Michael Bennet trailing all three Republicans running against him, including a nine point deficit to Jane Norton, is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn't do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year.

The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn't have to be that way.

If David Paterson had appointed Andrew Cuomo and Rod Blagojevich had appointed Lisa Madigan there's no way we'd be talking about those seats right now. End of story.

There were better choices in Colorado and Delaware too. We did some polling right after the announcement of Ken Salazar's cabinet appointment last year that showed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper with a 14 point lead over former Colorado Governor Bill Owens and Congressman John Salazar (Ken's brother) with a 52-43 lead. A month later, after Bennet's appointment and before the climate started turning against Democrats, we tested an Owens/Bennet contest and found Owens up 44-41. So essentially Bennet was 17 points weaker than Hickenlooper and 12 points weaker than Salazar. That's the difference in Colorado right now between Democrats leading in the polls and trailing in the polls.

It's harder to say what should have happened in Delaware- the situation there was complicated by Beau Biden's military service. But it seems likely that if someone had been appointed to the seat and had hit the ground running in preparation to run to keep it Mike Castle would have been less inclined to try to make the jump to the Senate. And if Castle doesn't get in this seat isn't competitive.

All four Governors who had the opportunity to make these appointments last year were too cute in their selections. And it's interesting to note that two of them- Bill Ritter of Colorado and David Paterson of New York- saw almost immediate downturns in their approval ratings due at least partially to unhappiness with how they handled them. And the other two- Rod Blagojevich and Ruth Ann Minner- aren't in office anymore.

Democratic Governors need to think more about appointing the strongest candidate electorally to these seats in the future.

Reagan tops, Bush worst among recent Presidents

Republicans who invoke Ronald Reagan's name all the time may be onto something- he is the country's most popular President of the last 30 years.

41% of respondents to our national survey said Reagan was their favorite out of the last five Presidents, followed by Bill Clinton with 27% and Barack Obama with 22%. Both of the Bushes poll in single digits.

Reagan is first among Republicans with 76% and independents with 41%. He's also the only one of the Presidents to poll in double digits across party lines, the choice of 11% of Democrats. Clinton edges Obama 46-36 for tops honors among Democrats.

Reagan is the first choice of almost every group within the poll except for liberals and African Americans who choose Obama and moderates, Hispanics, and voters under 30 who choose Clinton.

The age results on the poll are interesting. Nobody who is under 30 now had the opportunity to vote for Clinton, but he was the President while they were growing up and they seem to look back on those days fondly. There seems to be a similar sentiment with the 30-45 demographic. None of them were able to vote for Reagan when he was first elected and few of them were for his reelection but he nevertheless beats Clinton 39-27 with that group. People seem to like the Presidents of their childhood.

When it comes to the least favorite President of that group George W. Bush narrowly edges out Barack Obama for top honors 38-37 with the rest much further back. It seems somewhat remarkable considering the high levels of hatred Republicans had for Bill Clinton but Obama's already winning least popular designation by a 69-17 margin with that group. George W. Bush leads his dad 58-16 for the dubious distinction among Democrats and with independents the younger Bush leads Obama 46-30.

Some of the takeaways from these numbers:

-When you see Reagan as the most popular recent President and W. Bush as the least popular it's no wonder Republicans try to envelop themselves in the Reagan brand- it certainly has a lot more appeal to voters.

-It is a sign of how polarizing Obama's first year has been that 30% of respondents picked him as either best or worst already, more than any of the other Presidents. I don't use the word 'polarizing' as a pejorative- it's just a simple truth that Obama has pursued an ambitious agenda and the result of that has been a lot of people either really liking or really hating him.

-The first George Bush didn't leave a strong impression on the American public- few listed him as the best or the worst.

Full results here

Hypocrisy from 'values' voters in South Carolina

With Jenny Sanford filing for divorce today it seems like an appropriate time to discuss how self declared 'values' voters in South Carolina feel about their Governor.

13% of respondents on our poll said 'moral and family values' was the issue most important to them, a distant second to the economy and jobs which was the top concern of 54% of respondents.

While 51% of all South Carolina voters disapprove of Mark Sanford's job performance, only 38% of professed values voters do.

While 45% of all South Carolina voters want Sanford to resign, only 33% of the 'moral and family values' crowd wants him to.

And while 32% of all South Carolina voters think Sanford should be impeached, only 28% of this crowd does.

Where do you think these folks stood on impeaching Bill Clinton? It's clear there is forgiveness for politicians who cheat on their wives and abuse state resources to do so- as long as they're Republicans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Other politicians losing popularity too

Barack Obama's approval slide has received all the attention, but he's far from alone among politicians in seeing their popularity decline over the course of 2009.

Let's look at his approval and the favorabilities of Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin from our first 2012 poll conducted back in April and see how they match up to now:

April Numbers

December Numbers

Net Shift

















These numbers suggest that at least part of Obama's decline in popularity can be attributed to a general dissatisfaction of voters with politicians right now regardless of their party. Across the board voters are seeing elected officials as part of the problem instead part of the solution and that's not likely to change until they start really feeling that things are headed in the right direction. Obama is the main person being hurt by that sentiment but it's not restricted to him by any means.
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