A Final Look At What’s Happening

We at Public Opinion Strategies wanted to wrap up the election cycle with some last minute observations about what is happening in the political environment, and how it is affecting campaigns.

It’s been a wild cycle – starting with a Nobel Peace Prize and other unearned accolades for Barack Obama, a failed, jobless, wasteful spending stimulus package that Republicans wisely stuck to their principles and didn’t embrace, and Harry Reid being his usual venomous self.

The game changers came in three races – Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts – two of which we were the pollsters in (VA and MA). Since then, we have polled in 142 Congressional races, including nearly every Democratic seat that is in jeopardy on Tuesday, 21 Senate races, and 13 Governor’s races. Much of the work was directly for the candidates, but there was also a lot done for IE efforts. Doing all of those campaigns has led us to six conclusions about what you need to know going into the final hours.

  • The overriding factor that has driven voters away from Obama, Pelosi, Reid and the Democrats is concern about the economy. Democrats tried to blame George W. Bush and Republicans, but they have been running Congress for four years and all of Washington for two years, and their economic prescriptions have failed. Consumer confidence dropped even further over the summer, and that has helped put many more races in play.
  • The President’s approval rating is much worse in the key districts that Republicans are fighting for – especially in the 49 seats the Democrats hold but John McCain won in 2008. His numbers are particularly weak among white voters, and most of the districts in play are above average for white voting age population.
  • The campaign enthusiasm gap is real, and it is worth extra points for Republicans. As 2006 taught us, you can’t make up on turnout what you’ve lost on message. Every evidence – including the early voting numbers that some in the media have dramatically misunderstood – is that Republicans are primed to vote in huge numbers as we saw in Virginia last year.
  • Prediction: Dems will hit their turnout goals in some states/districts (miss in others), but will still be beaten because Republican turnout will shock them. Oh, and Independents are breaking GOP here at the end. The combination is very powerful.
  • The Democrats never had a policy narrative. They have nothing to run on. Their false hits on outsourcing were not seen as credible by voters, and they lack any policy pelts on the wall to point to that voters like. Stimulus? Failed. Health care? Raising costs, lowering quality, and putting government in charge is not going to be embraced by the public no matter how well or poorly it is messaged. Financial reform? Voters don’t believe it helps them. Some individual Democrats will win because they took out their GOP opponents on opposition research (not policy). But failed policy hurts Dems more.
  • Democrats never grasped until too late how much Nancy Pelosi antagonized middle America. When Newt Gingrich had high unfavs, he had the entire mainstream media hammering him. Pelosi has done this on her own – voters are disappointed in Obama and felt he misled them about his approach, but Pelosi is seen by many voters as an elitist snob who despises flyover country. So, instead of attacking the President Americans are still sympathetic to (although their doubts are growing), Republicans could use Nancy Pelosi as shorthand for the need for a check and balance.

The die has been cast for a long time. However, the final outcome on individual races is not fully written. Keep working to the end – even those Republicans who are headed for victory can help other Republicans by increasing turnout and helping state legislative candidates. Finish the campaign, and turn it from a wave into a tsunami.

And, since we’ve got your attention – kudos must be given to a number of committees and organizations who have helped turn around the status of the GOP from floundering to fighting. The National Republican Senatorial Committee deserves credit for recruiting strong candidates in states like Washington and California, remaining nimble to take advantage of emerging opportunities like West Virginia, and for keeping the heat on. The National Republican Congressional Committee has done a fabulous job of expanding the playing field, raising more money than expected, and causing the Democrats to flop sweat like Dan Snyder watching Rex Grossman at quarterback.

And, congrats to the Republican State Leadership Committee for their work, not only in campaigns for Attorney General around the country and other down ballot races, but also in their strong efforts in support of Republican state legislative campaigns to help secure Republican majorities in many states.

Organizations like American Crossroads, American Action Network, Americans for Job Security, Americans for Prosperity, the 60+ Association, and others deserve a lot of credit for early spending to widen the playing field and put an incredible amount of pressure on Democrats, who appear to have thin skin when their own tactics are used against them.

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