The latest Democracy Corps national survey, conducted by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, has numbers that should worry both Democrats and Republicans. The survey, conducted June 18-21 among 1,000 likely 2012 voters (with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent) showed that those respondents were pessimistic about the direction of the country and disapproved of the job being done by House Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, yet still gave them a 3-point edge overall in matchups for control of the House. Voters are unhappy with both parties as well as with the job members of Congress are doing.
Although conducted by a partisan polling firm and commissioned by Democracy Corps, a nonprofit started in 1999 by pollster Stan Greenberg and Democratic veteran James Carville, the series of polls is highly regarded among pros on both sides and its numbers did not downplay the threat that Democrats faced ahead of their electoral disaster last fall.
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Overall, 61 percent of likely voters surveyed said they believe that the country is on the wrong track, while only 28 percent said it is going in the right direction. Those numbers are close to the average for all 10 of the Democracy Corps surveys taken over the past 10 months. President Obama’s job-approval ratings were upside-down this month, with 48 percent of interviewees disapproving and 46 percent approving. Since the first of the year, his approval/disapproval ratings have seesawed in a narrow range, although the disapproval numbers have not run quite as high as they did in the months leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
Meanwhile, only 32 percent of those surveyed said they approve of the way Republicans in Congress are leading the House of Representatives; 60 percent said they disapprove. Those are the lowest approval and highest disapproval ratings of the five polls taken this year.
The survey also posed a series of “thermometer questions” that ask respondents to rate various people and institutions on a scale of zero to 100. The Republican Party had a mean score of 45.1, and the Democratic Party scored 46.3. Republicans in Congress came in at 43.8, and their Democratic counterparts averaged 44.1.
People interviewed on landline phones were asked the thermometer rating for their district’s House incumbent (cell-phone interviewees cannot be segmented by congressional district), with the name of the lawmaker provided by the interviewer. Both parties’ House incumbents fared better than the body as a whole: In the rating averages, Republicans edged out Democrats, 54.9 to 54.1. Individually speaking, President Obama scored 51.4; House Speaker John Boehner rated 47.2; and GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got 44.4.
However, just because a number is over 50 doesn’t mean it’s a good sign—they are only averages. Scores in the high 60s or better would be far more impressive.
In the Democracy Corps surveys, a hybrid variation of the generic congressional-ballot test question is employed. When interviewing people using landline phones, the pollsters name the district’s incumbent (if he or she is running for reelection) and use “the Democratic candidate” or “the Republican candidate” in lieu of a name of an opponent. Using that model, Republicans had a 3-point edge overall, 47 percent to 44 percent, and led among the critical block of independent voters by 12 points, 48 percent to 36 percent. In the five Democracy Corps surveys conducted this year, Republicans have led in four, pulling between 45 and 48 percent in each poll, while Democrats have ranged from 44 to 46 percent.
In a presidential trial heat, Obama was tested only against Romney, the current GOP front-runner. In this latest June survey, Obama held a statistically insignificant lead over Romney, 47 percent to 45 percent. The president has held narrow leads in four out of the five Democracy Corps polls this year, with support levels ranging from 46 to 48 percent. Romney led in the April survey 48 percent to 44 percent; for the year, the Republican’s numbers in the survey have ranged between 44 to 48 percent. In the June survey, Romney had a 2-percentage-point advantage over Obama among independent voters, 44 percent to 42 percent.
The recent downbeat economic data was also reflected in the poll. In late May, 42 percent of those surveyed said they thought the economy was improving, 31 percent thought it was getting worse, and 23 percent said it was “at bottom.” This month, only 35 percent of respondents said they thought the economy was improving, while 37 percent thought it was getting worse.
This survey, like many others that we have seen in recent months, suggests that the volatility of the last three elections may continue. However, it may not manifest itself in a partisan manner with one party being punished and the other rewarded. Indeed, Americans do not seem to be in a mood to reward either side right now. The upcoming elections could be the first in 20 years in which incumbents wearing both red and blue jerseys are thrown out of office. The independent voters who swung sharply against Republicans in 2006 and 2008 and against Democrats in 2010 are still angry and still in the mood to lash out at somebody. The last real “out-with-them-all” elections were in 1992, right after the infamous House Bank and Post Office scandal.
This article appears in the June 28, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.