Looking ahead to the midterms, this Politico report and this summary from the pollster PPP provide some perspective on how far the GOP has to go. As Politico reports, one important Republican problem is the weakness of their fundraising:
Privately, top Republicans tell POLITICO that they are most concerned right now about their bank balance. They are doing well in recruiting candidates but worry they might not have the cash to sufficiently fund them.
Consider the House. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has $15 million in the bank right now — nearly four times more than the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Officials say that, while small and large donors are still chipping in, the recession has caused a dip in contributions from middle-level donors — often the small-business types who are feeling the economic pinch.
At the candidate level, if you tally up all the money for everyone running, Democrats have about $60 million more ($175 million to $114 million), according to numbers compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Money is one of the many reasons top GOP officials wish the party had not elected Michael Steele as Republican National Committee chairman. Senior Republicans don’t like his loose lips or his wildly improvisational style. But they could live with that if the RNC were a cash cow. It is not, in part because of Steele’s unwillingness to personally stroke top donors.
Poor Republican fundraising and a Democratic advantage in fundraising have been the story for the last two cycles of House elections. As the report says, the RNC has less cash on hand than its Democratic counterpart, and Steele’s erratic and often ridiculous leadership style is hindering efforts to make up the difference. Things can change, Steele might be forced out on account of his incompetence, and fundraising could pick up if it seems that the GOP has a fighting chance, but at present the GOP is at a significant disadvantage. The recent Court decision on corporate and union contributions doesn’t seem likely to help Republicans that much. Not only are they deep in the minority, but to the extent that they have posed as populists arrayed against bailouts and crony capitalism they have not exactly been giving corporations a lot of reasons to provide funding. If they opt to become defenders of Wall Street and banks against Democratic expressions of economic populism, they may win contributions at the expense of losing many votes.
Meanwhile, the public is largely dissatisfied with “the direction of the GOP”:
Our national poll this week found that only 19% of voters in the country are happy with the direction of the Republican Party, compared to 56% who are unhappy with it. Even among independents, who have voted overwhelmingly for Scott Brown, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell 58% say they don’t like the direction the GOP is headed in.
I know what you’re going to say. How can the public be unhappy with the GOP’s direction? Wouldn’t the party need to have a direction with which to make them unhappy? What this does confirm is that the party is still politically toxic, and according to a WSJ/NBC poll it has a favorability rating of just 30%. The Politico article also related another piece of information that makes the chances of a significant Republican resurgence seem pretty poor:
A recent Washington Post poll found 24 percent trusted congressional Republicans to make the right decisions for the country — 8 points fewer than Democrats and 23 points fewer than Obama.
Three out of four Americans don’t trust them to make the right decisions, and yet we’re supposed to believe that they’re on the verge of being rewarded with massive gains in both houses later this year? Of course, these are midterm elections, and under normal conditions likely Republican voters tend to turn out for these at a higher rate than Democratic voters, so the distrust that the overwhelming majority feels for the Congressional GOP could be blunted. However, if the problem the administration and Congress have is that the public does not trust them, doesn’t distrust of Republicans in Congress make it very unlikely that the public is going to put them anywhere near regaining power in Washington?
The story Republicans have told themselves since they were thrown out in 2006 is that spending and earmarks did them in. Despite having no evidence that this was the case, they have repeated this for years. Having misunderstood the real reasons for their political collapse, they are poor interpreters of voters’ intentions, which makes it unlikely that they understand why they prevailed in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts. If they don’t understand this, it is improbable that they are going to be able to replicate that success in the fall.
That brings us to trying to understand the public’s views on the health care bill. Everyone is citing the new Gallup poll showing a majority wants Congress to suspend efforts on the current health care bill and consider alternatives “that can receive more Republican support.” The topline result seems straightforward enough. Just like Brown voters, a majority wants to stop the current bill. What the Gallup poll does not ask is why respondents want to do this. Naturally, GOP partisans take the topline result at face value and conclude that it must mean that any and all “health care reform” is wildly unpopular. We have already seen that this is not what Obama/Brown voters meant in Massachusetts, and it seems reasonable to suppose that some nontrivial number of Gallup’s 55% are also saying something else.
One of the other questions yields a somewhat vague result, but it does cast some doubt on interpretations that independent voters are recoiling from Obama’s agenda. Asked whether they are pleased with Obama’s progress, disappointed that he did not achieve more, or upset that he is taking the country in the wrong direction, 39% of respondents said they are pleased and 20% are disappointed. 37% is upset with the wrong direction. Among independents, the numbers were 35/25/35. I say that the result is vague because it is not completely clear what the disappointed respondents mean exactly by “more progress,” but regardless of what they meant exactly the result suggests that they seem to be sympathetic to Obama’s agenda, but they find his execution and his product lacking.
If the prevailing interpretation were correct, we should see a much higher “upset” result among all respondents and among independents in particular. This poll does not show that the majority is outraged by Democratic overreach. Apparently, the majority does not think that Obama is moving in the wrong direction. Most independents are evidently not fleeing from the Democrats because they believe their agenda to be misguided, but approximately a quarter of them are disillusioned because they expected more results, more “progress.” To express their disappointment, some of them seem willing to defeat poor Democratic candidates to try to get the administration’s attention. Paradoxically, their disappointment may help ensure that he will produce even fewer results.