Echoes of 2006 – Battleground Favoring a GOP Senate Takeover

The recent NPR Senate Battleground Poll conducted by Democracy Corps and Resurgent Republic continues the trend of very positive polling numbers for Republicans’ quest to re-capture the US Senate.   Indeed, the Senate environment looks similar to the last Senate takeover in the 2006 election.

  • Few voters in the battleground endorse the status quo. Just 26{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 69{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} feel the country is off on the wrong track.

    This outlook is comparable to the 2006 election when 63{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of voters felt the country was off on the wrong track, compared to only 33{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} who believed we were headed in the right direction.

  • President Obama’s job approval rating is in the danger zone for Democratic candidates, 41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve – 56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove. As has been pointed out in this blog and a recent Fix posting in Washington Post, there is a very strong correlation between the President’s job performance and his party’s performance in mid-term elections.

    A review of the 2006 exit polls showed that Republican candidates in the 10 most competitive Senate elections struggled to separate themselves from the President and failed to dramatically out-perform the President’s job rating.

chart 1

  •  In the 2006 mid-term, an eighteen point deficit with Independent voters sealed the fate of Republicans in the Senate battleground. Indeed, Independents voted against five of the six Republican incumbents who lost in 2006, often by wide margins.
    Chart 2
    Today, Independent voters are breaking strongly for Republican candidates. Independent voters’ outlook toward the direction of the country (17{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-79{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) is much closer to the Republican view (2{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-94{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than the more optimistic Democratic attitude (55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

    This boosts Republicans on the ballot. While Democrats own a three-point advantage in party ID (34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} D – 31{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} R) in the Senate Battleground, the Republican candidate leads the ballot by three points (48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) due to wide sixteen point lead among Independent voters, 53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.

    Democrats cannot count on a “damaged” Republican Party brand to rescue them with Independent voters. Both the Democratic Party generically and Democratic incumbent candidates are viewed more negatively than the Republican Party and Republican candidates.

    chart 3
    The wide Republican lead among Independents also acts as a counterweight to the Democratic GOTV machine. For Democrats to overcome the sixteen point deficit with Independents through changing the electorate, they would need to expand their current +3 Party ID advantage to a +9 differential – wider than the 2008 Presidential election (+7 Dem).

  • Looking forward, the 2006 elections provide two important lessons that could foretell the 2014 election outcome.

    First, according to the aggregate polling numbers from Huffington Post’s, Democrats trail in seven battleground seats (not including MT, WV, and SD). They may not be able to count on a late surge to win. In the majority of 2006 races, late-deciding voters broke to the Democratic candidates.

    chart 4
    Additionally, in 2006 the six losing Republican incumbents and party allies outspent their Democratic opponents by over $20 million combined. The Democrats’ hopes of spending their way out of their current problems could be futile.

chart 5

Public Opinion Strategies