Americans Even More Pessimistic Ahead of Midterm Elections by Gary D. Halbert

October 28, 2014


1.  New Poll Sheds Interesting Light on Midterm Elections

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3.  Disillusioned Voters Could Lead to Election Day Surprise

4.  No, President Obama, the Economy is Still Not Healthy

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New Poll Sheds Interesting Light on Midterm Elections

Republicans remain in a favorable position heading into the midterm elections. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Sunday showed that the GOP now holds an 11-point lead among “likely voters.” That’s up from only a 5-point lead a week earlier. Some 52% of likely voters want a Republican-led Congress, while 41% favor Democratic control.

Yet the economic outlook is unsettled amid unusually low voter interest, high dissatisfaction with leaders in Washington and a reordering of issues on voters’ minds, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found. With the election just a week away, I will summarize the poll results for you below – without making any specific predictions on my part.

Voters’ excitement about the campaign hasn’t increased as Election Day approaches, defying the trend in recent years. The share of voters who see the country on the “wrong track” has reached the highest level ever (65%) in a midterm election year. And an election that once was thought to hinge on healthcare and other domestic issues is increasingly shadowed by international crises that weren’t on the radar just a year ago, Ebola among them.

Midterm Elections


Pollsters for both parties who conducted the survey predict Republican gains in the House and Senate, as the poll found that registered voters prefer a GOP-controlled Congress over a Democratic one, 46% to 44%. But they also said the unusually volatile environment, combined with the large number of close races for control of the Senate and governors’ offices, raised the potential for unexpected results.

“Something weird will happen on election night,” predicted Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducted the survey with Democrat Fred Yang. “When you are sitting on top of an unstable, ticked-off electorate, there is a joker in the deck that ought to give us a little bit of caution.”

The slight preference for a GOP Congress comes amid continued low job-approval ratings for President Obama including a record-low 31% approval for his handling of foreign policy among registered voters, with 61% disapproving. The chart below illustrates Obama’s overall job approval rating.

Midterm Elections


Yet the GOP advantage is narrower than the 50%-to-43% edge the Republicans enjoyed at this point before the 2010 wave that gave them a majority in the House. The latest poll found that half of all voters have negative impressions of the GOP – a level higher than in September and close to the record registered during last fall’s government shutdown.

One of the wild cards in the final weeks of the midterm campaign is the rise of foreign affairs as an issue on voters’ minds. The fight against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria ranked third among issues that voters said would be important in their vote for Congress, beyond job creation and breaking the partisan gridlock in Washington.

More Americans Support US Ground Forces to Fight ISIS

The poll also found support rising for the use of US ground forces to fight the Islamic State terrorists. Some 35% in the new survey said military action against the group should be limited to air strikes, with 41% saying it should include combat troops, as well. A month earlier, some 40% called for airstrikes only, with 34% saying the US should use combat troops as well as air strikes.

The outbreak of Ebola also is making an impression on voters, as 98% have heard or read about the deadly virus, a record level of awareness of major news events tracked by the WSJ/NBC polling. The poll of 1,000 registered voters was taken October 8-12, including the period when news was just emerging that a Dallas nurse had contracted Ebola.

Midterm Elections


The emergence of ISIS and Ebola as attention-grabbing issues underscores the uncertainty surrounding which factors will shape the final week of the campaign. “With all that is happening internationally, there can easily be an event that will define or redefine this election,” Mr. Yang said. ”This is a cake that’s not quite baked yet.”

Disillusioned Voters Could Lead to Election Day Surprise

Another wild card, and a symptom of voter discontent, is the growing appeal of third-party candidates. The poll found that voters are more likely than four years ago to say they would vote for Libertarian and Green party candidates if given a chance, with Libertarians drawing support from 9% of likely voters. The poll indicated that the presence of third-party candidates was a greater drag on the GOP than on Democratic prospects.

The poll comes as many Republicans are bullish about the prospects of gaining the net of six seats they need for a majority in the Senate, and of expanding their majority in the House. 52% of Republicans said they were more enthusiastic about this election than past ones, compared with only 40% of Democrats.

Yet when asked to rate their interest in the midterms on a scale of 1-to-10, only half rated their interest level as 9 or 10 – about the same as in a June poll. In 2010, those showing a high level of interest rose sharply from 51% in June to 61% in October.

That is just one indicator of voter disillusionment. Approval of Congress matched its record low of only 12%. One in eight said they would vote for a third-party candidate if they had a chance. Amid Mr. Obama’s low approval ratings, one-third of registered voters said their vote for Congress was intended to send a signal of opposition to the president. One-quarter said it was to send a signal of support to Mr. Obama.

Some 30% of registered voters said their representative deserves to be re-elected, while 57% said it was time to give a new person a chance. But half of voters said their own representative was “part of the solution” to problems facing the country, while one-third said they were “part of the problem.”

That underscores the phenomenon of voters often disparaging Congress but liking their own representatives, and it suggests the 2014 election could produce less change than the anti-incumbent sentiment would indicate.

Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who worked on the survey discussed above commented, “They have told us they would lash out against the system, but it sure looks like more of the same. The voters roar like lions, but they vote like lambs.” He sure hopes so anyway!

Several of the Senate races that appeared to favor the GOP have narrowed in the last few weeks. Next Tuesday night could be a nail-biter for politicos on both sides of the aisle.

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