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3 numbers in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that should worry Democrats

On the heels of Democrats' surprising loss in a Florida special election on Tuesday comes a new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll that will (and should) trigger even more nervousness within the party as the November midterm election draws closer.


(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The entire poll is an embarrassment of riches for political junkies -- you can scan it yourself here -- but three numbers in particular jumped out at us.

1. 41. That's President Obama's overall job approval in the new NBC-WSJ survey, the lowest he has been in the history of the poll. And, it's not a blip in the NBC-WSJ data. Obama was at 43 percent approval in January, 43 percent approval in December 2013 and 42 percent in late October 2013. In fact, the last time Obama's job approval was over 45 percent in the NBC-WSJ poll was June 2013. Here's why that matters. When Democrats lost control of the House in the the 1994 election, President Bill Clinton's approval rating was at 46 percent in the final Gallup poll before the election. In 2010, when Republicans won 63 seats -- and the majority -- Obama was at 45 percent job approval in the last Gallup poll before the election.  The closest analog to Obama's current approval morass is George W. Bush who in the final Gallup data before the 2006 election had a 38 percent job approval rating. Now, it's March not November. (They pay us the big bucks for observations like that one!)  So, it's possible that between now and November President Obama will find a way to improve on his approval numbers. But, it's hard to see from the poll how he would do that. His numbers on handling the economy are in the same shape -- read: bad -- as his overall numbers.  A near-majority (49 percent) believe Obamacare is a bad idea.

2. 44. That's the percentage of respondents who said that a "congressperson's position on national issues" would be more important in deciding their votes than the "congressperson's performance in taking care of problems in your district." Now, to be fair, a majority (51 percent) said that the district performance of a member would take precedence in their vote.  But the fact that four in ten registered voters are saying this far out from an election that national issues take priority in how they will vote is a telling indicator of the possibility of the November election being nationalized -- and not in a way that benefits Democrats. The numbers from past nationalized midterm elections in which large numbers of seats changed hands are telling here too. In late October 2006, 39 percent of people said a congressperson's view on national issues was more important while 39 percent said care and feeding of the district mattered more.  In October 1994, 35 percent said national issues mattered more while 51 percent prioritized local performance. So, the numbers right now point more heavily toward a nationalized election than they did in late 1994 and are close to where the environment stood in October 2006. Add to those numbers the fact David Jolly's victory in the Florida special was fueled by an unrelenting negative message about the impact of Obamacare and you can see storm clouds building for Democrats.

3. 33. One in three registered voters in the NBC-WSJ poll said that their vote for Congress this fall will be intended to signal opposition to President Obama. Compare that to the 24 percent who said their vote would be a way to show support for Obama and you have the enthusiasm gap between the two party bases that likely sunk (Alex) Sink on Tuesday. Again, past NBC-WSJ data is instructive. On the eve of the 2010 election, 35 percent said their vote was a way to show support for Obama while 34 percent said it was to show optimism.  The danger for Obama -- and his party -- is if his current numbers continue to tumble into a place where George W. Bush found himself in 2006; in a late October NBC-WSJ poll, 37 percent said their vote was to show opposition to Bush while just 22 percent said it was to show support.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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