National Landscape Matters, But Elections Are Still Local & Personal

As we enter the final stretch for this year’s elections, there is little doubt that voters are frustrated with the direction of the country and how it’s being governed. Consider the evidence:

  • 67{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of voters say the nation is off on the wrong track. [NBC/WSJ, Sept 2014]
  • 72{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans are dissatisfied with the ways the nation is being governed. [Gallup, Sept 2014]
  • 82{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove of the job Congress is doing. [Gallup, Sept 2014]

There is a real sense that voters are just fed up and want a change:

  • 57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans say something upsets them enough that they would carry a protest sign for a day. [NBC/WSJ, Aug 2014]
  • 54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say if they had the option, they would vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative. [NBC/WSJ, March 2014]

As we noted in our last blog, part of that frustration is borne out by voters telling us they are planning to vote against the other party, rather than for their own party. And, certainly the national political landscape is tilting more against the Democrats. President Obama’s recent reminder that his policies are part of the decision making process at the voting booth this year only helps reinforce the challenges Democratic candidates are facing.

But, despite this feeling of national malaise and the sense that voters want to shake things up, it’s always worth remembering that campaigns matter and congressional races are still local affairs where voters are making an assessment of which candidate they think will better serve their interests.

Indeed, in last month’s NBC/WSJ survey, almost three-quarters of voters tell us their vote is about choosing between two candidates rather than casting a vote in protest of the national landscape. And, responses to this question are similar across the board, whether voters self-identify as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent.

table 1

The positive way to interpret this result is that voters still have hope and want to vote for someone or something rather than against it. On the other hand, it could be argued that voters are choosing between the lesser of two evils. Either way, it is a good reminder that while the national landscape does matter and people are incredibly skeptical and discouraged by how things are going in Washington, at the end of the day they are entering the voting booth to make a personal decision about which candidate will best serve them on a local level.


Public Opinion Strategies partners with Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls. Neither Research Associates nor NBC/WSJ are responsible for these conclusions.

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