Benchmarking 2010 for the Democrats

A comparison of our latest NBC/WSJ national survey* (which was conducted March 11, 13-14, before the health care bill passed the House) with common questions asked on the March 2006 NBC-WSJ national survey, shows Democrats may be facing the same rout Republicans endured just four years ago.

One of the few commonalities between now and March 2006 is that roughly the same percentage of registered voters are what we call “High Interest” voters (52% in 2006 compared to 53% now), meaning they rate themselves as a 9 or 10 on a 10 point scale of interest in the election. However, this important sub-group is a mirror image of itself compared to the same time in 2006.

The most influential difference among this sub-group is their party identification. Among overall registered voters, Democrats hold an 8-pt advantage (45% Republican / 37% Democrat), but among high interest voters, Republican identification is +9 (48% Republican / 39% Democrat). Roughly the same percentage of high interest voters are identifying as Republican (48%) now that identified as Democrat (49%) in 2006.

%9-10 Election Interest Voters

MARCH 2006

MARCH 2010

Party ID of Registered Voters

Republican

33%

48%

Democrat

49%

39%

-16%

9%

By the numbers, the Republican majority of 2006 faced a significant deficit in their image rating while the Democratic Party polled dead-even among high interest voters. Today, while both parties are a net negative among these voters, a solid majority (57%) now has a negative image of the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party has improved by a net of 10 points compared to four years ago.

%9-10 Election Interest Voters

MARCH 2006

MARCH 2010

Republican Party Image

Positive

33%

36%

Negative

49%

42%

-16%

-6%

Democratic Party Image

Positive

37%

31%

Negative

37%

57%

0%

-26%

The heavier Republican identification influences other measures as well, more than doubling the Congressional approval gap seen in 2006 (-31% in 2006 and -75% now).

%9-10 Election Interest Voters

MARCH 2006

MARCH 2010

Congressional Approval

Approve

30%

11%

Disapprove

61%

86%

-31%

-75%

Congressional Preference

Republican-Controlled

32%

52%

Democrat-Controlled

57%

39%

-25%

13%

Re-elect/New Person

Re-elect

41%

39%

New Person

50%

54%

-9%

-15%

It’s clear that Congressional Democrats have cause to be worried about 2010 with a majority (52%) of high interest voters already preferring Republican-control of Congress, and incumbents facing a less friendly electorate than in March 2006. Fully 54% of high interest voters say they want to elect a new person rather than re-elect their Member of Congress, and although we don’t have a 2006 result for comparison, our latest track shows an astounding 54% of high interest voters say they would vote to defeat and replace every single Member of Congress including their own if there were a place on the ballot to do so.

Now, some may say that the passage of ObamaCare late Sunday night will save Democrats from large electoral losses in November. While new polling over the next several days and weeks will help to confirm or reject this hypothesis, our survey which was conducted before the House bill passed suggests this is a flawed assumption with nearly half (49%) of high interest voters saying they are less likely to vote for their member of Congress if they vote with the Democrats to pass the health care bill, and more likely to vote in 2010 for a candidate for Congress who proposes repealing and overturning the health care bill by a 3 to 2 margin (46% more likely and 29% less likely).

This assumption is further called into question by the Democratic Party’s slipping image as the party better at handling the issue of health care. Not only are the Democrats at the same record low point now, as they were in May 1994, with just a 9-point advantage, but among high interest voters their advantage disappears and Republicans are ahead by 4 points on this measure (33% Democratic Party / 37% Republican Party).

Certainly, nothing is set in stone, but as a benchmark the March NBC-WSJ numbers show convincing evidence of a huge challenge to Democrats in Congress and the party as a whole.

* The opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect that of NBC/WSJ or Hart Research.

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