The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Voters like Democrats better than Republicans on virtually every issue. But that doesn’t mean they will vote for them.

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.

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