I’m going out on a limb here, I think the democrats are in great shape going into the 2010 elections. I say it despite the various pundits and bloggers who are saying the opposite. I’ve been watching the dynamics of the health care reform battle, the tea party movement, the Sarah Palin phenomenon, Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich, the Obama haters, the polls and I’m beginning to think that when the dust settles in November of 2010, we will see a much different picture than people are painting right now.
The Tea Party movement will split the republicans. In many areas they are threatening to challenge republican candidates in the primary if you don’t agree with them on nearly everything. They are infiltrating the party at ground level. If they succeed in getting their kind nominated, a whole lot of republicans and independents will vote for the democrat in the general election. If they form a third party, which may happen, it will split what’s left of the conservative vote and democratic candidates will fair better. The “Tea Partiers” could have a significant effect in the primaries by selecting more extreme candidates which will turn off many moderate republicans in the general election. Both parties rely on the middle to get elected, except in districts that are solid one way or the other.
I’ve been studying election polls for years both in college courses and independently and they are used and abused by the media in many ways. My theory on polls is that they are not reliable at predicting voter behavior on election day except within a month of the election. The main reason for this is the vast majority of voters don’t really pay attention to candidates or issues until the election gets near. There are us political junkies who follow way too closely, but I keep telling myself that polls fluctuate wildly and the methodologies of many of them are questionable. For a great example of this, go read Nate Silver’s analysis of a poll commissioned by the off the rail blog Firedoglake. It’s revealing of how a poll can get you the results you want, if you write the questions and order the questions in the “right” way.
Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight is the absolute best at interpreting and analyzing polls and whenever a new poll comes, I rush over to Nate’s blog and see what he has to say about it. He’s honest and tells it like it is, whether it’s what you want to hear or not.
I’m not feeling doom and gloom for the democrats in the next election. If you look at the non “horserace” questions, you get a much more accurate picture of what might happen in the future. Drawing any conclusions about what might happen 10 months from now is a fools game. My optimism for the democratic party isn’t based on polls, whether they are good ones or not. It’s based on the dynamics of many variables including the “Tea Party Movement”, health care reform and all the rest.
So having said all that, here are some numbers from polls that are revealing. The generic democratic versus republican question in regards to congress has dems at 38, reps at 37 according to PollingReport.com. My theory, which isn’t original, is that in our two party system, both parties have about 35% solid support. There is another 10% or so that are pretty reliable for each party. The last 10% can go either way. Now depending on what part of the country you live in, these can vary quite a bit, but when you average it all out, the numbers above are pretty close. This poll shows republican support at the lowest in a decade. So the battle is generally in the middle with independent and moderates from both parties. The Democratic party has been swinging towards the middle when it comes to candidates whereas the republicans are clearly swinging to the right with the Tea Party crowd, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and all the rest of the loudest, most conservative wing of the party. The independents and moderates will go towards the candidate that shows that moderation.
Now some on the left have had some success at getting the base riled up, especially about health care and Afghanistan. If we look at the health care debate in particular, the people who don’t want any reform and the ones who want the most drastic reform, have teamed up to make the president look unpopular in the current moment. That’s what happens when you compromise, you get it from both sides. But that won’t translate into a massive change in votes in the next election, I am sure of that. People will return to their base principals and vote the way they always do, except for that moderate middle, they will swing whichever way depending on lots of things. The Jane Hamshers of the world who like to threaten candidates, hold guns to their heads, smear their wives, a petition every other week demanding something or another…they have their loyal little following who may not vote or may cast a “protest” vote for a Republican. But for the most part, this effort won’t have an effect on any elections. They may try to claim they do, but they are just trying to get clicks and then more clicks on their “donate” tabs which litter all the “non profits” they seem to run. Public Policy Polling has a great post with poll results that show the democratic faithful are just that, faithful. So when these Obama haters like Hamsher, Uygur, Marsh and the few others start over-inflating their impact, throw this poll in their face and tell them to read it and weep, real democrats support their party.