The new Washington Post/ABC News poll published this week had little good news for Democrats. President Obama's approval ratings keep sinking, and as midterm elections have become increasingly nationalized, voters more and more use their opinions of the White House as a proxy for their opinions of their congressional and state elected officials. Strike one against Democrats.
Even the Republicans who hate Republicans are voting Republican this year. Strike two.
Seventy-one percent of Americans think the economy is not so good or poor. Views on the economy historically play a large role in predicting whether the party in the White House is doomed to fail or likely to prevail. Strike three for the Democrats.
We can add an unnecessary strike four while we're at it: 67 percent of registered voters are thinking about shopping around for new elected officials in November. Because of the very good year Democrats had in 2008, the party is defending 21 seats, while Republicans are defending 15. Seven of those 21 seats are in states Mitt Romney carried in 2012.
However, there is one seemingly positive sign for the Democrats in the overall trending doom and gloom. When it comes to the issues, voters prefer Democrats on nearly everything -- including the minimum wage, which failed in the Senate yesterday after a Republican-led filibuster. Forty-nine percent of registered voters think Democrats align more with their views on minimum wage than Republicans. Thirty-four percent think Republicans mirror their view more closely.
"If the Republicans continue to block [the minimum wage increase], the American people will hold them accountable this November," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on Wednesday. Democrats are clearly hoping that continuing to put their "“A Fair Shot for Everyone" legislation to a vote -- including the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Minimum Wage Fairness Act and the Bring Jobs Home Act -- and forcing Republicans to cast votes that don't play well in prime-time or in campaign ads will give them a much needed boost in an unforgiving year.
Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told the New York Times last month, “I think this is helping re-establish a connection with what people care about, and that’s whether the middle class is growing. This ought to help us with Democratic voters, independent voters and Republican voters. Just look at the polling on the minimum wage.” On the surface, the plan appears to be working. Democrats have an advantage when it comes to health care.
Democrats have a marginal lead on who the public trusts on the economy. More people agree with Democrats on the issue of immigration. Way more people trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class. Democrats also have a big lead when it comes to which people Americans trust to do a better job helping women. When it comes to the "main problems facing the country," the public trusts Democrats more. The list goes on and on. Americans agree more with Democrats when it comes to abortion, gay marriage and climate change too. The only issues Republicans have an edge in are balancing cuts to government programs, the federal budget deficit and gun control. In short, Democrats are feeling a bit like this when it comes to voters and policy. All this liking hasn't done much to change Democrats' chances in 2014, at least not yet. As we've already heard many times so far this election season, Republicans have amassed a significant built-in advantage when it comes to midterms. A huge drop-off in turnout happens in midterm elections. The few voters that remain are more likely to be white, and they are more likely to be older. The demographic profile of your average midterm voter used to benefit Democrats, who could count on New Deal liberals to beef up their support. Now Republicans have the midterm advantage, as the Reagan generation starts to hit retirement.
The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents if they were "absolutely certain" to vote. Granted, there is definitely some over-reporting here -- respondents don't want to tell even the faceless voices on the phone that they are bad people planning on doing something other than voting on Election Day -- but 49 percent of "certain" voters are Republican or lean Republican. Forty-four percent are Democrat or lean Democrat. On top of that, voters almost always vote against the party of a president in his second-term midterm.
By focusing on issues like the minimum wage and the helping the middle class, Democrats are trying not only to rally their base and increase turnout -- and decrease the Republican turnout advantage -- they're also trying to coax Republican and Independent voters to support their ticket. Has it worked? Nope.
When our pollsters asked the people "absolutely certain" to vote which candidate they were thinking of choosing in their House race, it was identical to the partisan split of the voters. There are months and months for this plan to work. But, as some of the most imperiled Senate Democrats, like Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, are opposed to many of the Democrats' most ambitious legislative plans in the first place, finding that perfect wedge issue isn't likely to be the saving grace for any Democratic candidate.
While Democrats have a six-point advantage on “coping with the main problems the nation faces” with the American public writ large they have a three-point deficit with voters "absolutely certain" to vote this year.
The Democratic Party's lead on health care shrinks from 8 percentage points to 4 percentage points when you look at registered voters instead of the entire populace. On immigration, the parties are even when you look at registered voters instead of the whole population.
For the voters who haven't made up their mind on which party to trust, Republicans still have an advantage. Of the 15 percent of Americans who prefer neither party on more than two issues, 46 percent are planning on voting for Republican candidates, while 24 percent plan to vote for Democrats.
Focusing on policies the public likes is exactly what a politician should be doing, but, because politics is weird, they often can't rely on it to help them come election season. And for Democrats, this is especially true in 2014.
Scott Clement contributed to this post.
"For more states, execution means improvisation as drug supplies dwindle" — Brady Dennis and Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post
"Shifting Demographics Tilt Presidential Races in American Suburbs" —Elizabeth Williamson and Dante Chinni, The Wall Street Journal