The NBC/WSJ poll that came out earlier this week has some interesting results. The midterms are just over nine months away, so it seemed worth checking the questions related to the elections. The generic ballot shows a Democratic edge of 2 points, 44-42, but we should bear in mind that the RCP average for the generic ballot continues to show the GOP ahead by 3. More interesting, only 27% of respondents said that they would be casting their votes to send a signal of opposition to Obama. 37% said they will be signalling support for him, and 38% said they will not be sending any signal about Obama. That does not exactly fit the picture of a public recoiling in horror from Obama.
Contrast this with a comparable question about Bush in ’06. Throughout 2006, anti-Bush voters had the edge over pro-Bush voters by 15-18 points. Prior to the 2002 and 1998 midterms, when the presidential party gained seats in the House, pro-Bush and pro-Clinton voters edged out the opposition voters by 12 points in ’02 and 5 points in ’98. What distinguishes the ’02 and ’98 results from ’06 and this year is that in the earlier elections there were far more neutral voters for whom the President was not a direct factor. Nonetheless, as the ’02 and ’98 results suggest, when there are more pro-presidential voters than anti-presidential voters the presidential party tends to have better-than-average midterm elections. Interestingly, Obama’s numbers here are almost a reverse of Bush’s ’06 numbers: where 37% wanted to show opposition to Bush and just 22% wanted to express support, 37% want to show support for Obama and 27% want to express opposition. While this is just one result, it wouldn’t seem to herald the collapse of Democratic majorities caused by massive anti-Obama sentiment sweeping the land.
That doesn’t mean that Democrats aren’t going to lose many seats this fall. They will. However, it does suggest that most voters’ frustrations right now are not a product of their dissatisfaction with Obama. It is possible that these numbers could change and the anti-presidential vote could increase, but if we look at the ’06 numbers we see that the levels of support and opposition were locked in over a year earlier and barely changed at all between the end of ’05 and the election. After everything we have been hearing about Republican successes and the administration’s approaching doom, what is interesting here is that there are relatively so few respondents in this poll that want to express opposition to Obama in the midterms.
Part of this has to be a result of the public’s assignment of blame for current problems. 48% assign either a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of blame to Congressional Republicans, 41% to Democrats in Congress, and just 27% to Obama. One reason why Obama keeps coming back to the claim that he inherited most of the problems beforehim is probably that he and his advisors assume that the public continues to believe that others are far more responsible for our current predicament. Until these numbers change, we can expect to hear more from Obama along these lines for many more months to come.