Public Opinion Watch, April 25, 2006

Updating the 2006 Election Outlook; Recoloring the Political Map; The Reemergence of the Gender Gap

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Article created by the The Century Foundation.

Updating the 2006 Election Outlook

At the end of last month, I published a lengthy piece,
“2006 Election Outlook: The Macro and the Micro.”
Here are some updates to that piece.

1. In that piece, I pointed out that low congressional job approval generally is considered a very unfavorable indicator for
the incumbent party in midterm elections and, moreover, is generally associated with relatively large seat swings. The
latest Gallup numbers
make the situation seem even more dire for the incumbent party:

Public approval of the job Congress is doing has dipped to its lowest level of 2006, and is now the worst Gallup has recorded since the closing days of the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994.

According to an April 10–13, 2006, Gallup Poll, 23% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 70% disapprove. The current approval score is slightly below the 25%–27% range seen since January.

The current 23% approval rating for Congress is a near-record low for the institution. Gallup’s trend for this question, which started in 1974, shows lower approval scores on only three other occasions: October 1994 (21%), March 1992 (18%), and June 1979 (19%).

2. In the earlier piece, I noted that there appears to be an enthusiasm gap in favor of the Democrats as we head toward
this year’s election. A supporting analysis along these lines was provided by an April 17 Washington Post article,
“Anger at Bush May Hurt GOP at Polls,”
which summarized some key indicators of this enthusiasm gap and what it could portend:

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 47 percent of voters “strongly” disapprove of Bush’s job performance, vs. 20 percent who said they “strongly approve.”

In the recent past, this perennial truism of politics—emotion equals turnout—has worked more to the Republican advantage. Several weeks before the 2002 midterm elections, Bush had 42 percent of voters strongly approving of him, compared with 18 percent in strong opposition. Democrats were stunned on election night when Republicans defied historical patterns and made gains in the House and Senate. The president’s party usually loses seats during the first midterm elections after he takes office.

Whether anti-Bush sentiments portend a political tidal wave in November is much debated, but Democrats hope they are hearing early echoes of 1974 and 1994. There was massive turnover of congressional seats in those midterm elections, as fired-up voters first punished Republicans for Watergate, and later turned on Democrats because of President Bill Clinton’s failed health-care initiative and because of anger over House ethics abuses.

The intense opposition to Bush is larger than any faced by Clinton. For all the polarization the 42nd president inspired, Clinton’s strong disapproval never got above 37 percent in Post-ABC polls during his presidency.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said GOP House candidates have reason to worry. His surveys find that 82 percent of Americans who say they voted for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 plan to vote for a Democrat for the House this year. But only 65 percent who voted for Bush say they will vote for a Republican House nominee, Garin said. The remaining 35 percent say they are open to voting for a Democrat or staying home.

“We get a large chunk of Bush voters who are not motivated to go out and vote for Republicans this fall,” Garin said. “That puts a lot of red districts into play.”

recent Gallup analysis
provides some very direct data on this enthusiasm gap. Gallup asked voters whether they were more enthusiastic than usual or less enthusiastic than usual about voting this year. They found that 48 percent of Democratic partisans, compared to just 33 percent of Republican partisans, said they were more enthusiastic than usual, a gap of fifteen points in the Democrats’ favor. Going back to 1994, Gallup has never observed a gap of this magnitude in the Democrats’ favor—in fact, the only other time the gap has favored the Democrats at all was earlier this year. Otherwise, the Republicans have typically had the advantage or at worst been tied with the Democrats. But this year is very, very different.

3. In the earlier piece, I remarked how strongly independents are leaning Democratic and how much they resemble Democrats in their attitudes toward the Bush administration (the “Indycrat” phenomenon). Here are the
latest Gallup data
on how independents rate Bush’s job performance in various areas, followed by their (positive) distance from Democrats’ ratings and their (negative) distance from Republicans’ ratings. Note how the magnitude of independents’ distance from Republicans is so much larger than their distance from Democrats.

Overall: 26, +15, -48
Iraq: 22, +15, -51
Economy: 32, +20, -45
Terrorism: 41, +21, -39
Energy: 21, +12, -38
Health care: 21, +9, -37
Immigration: 23, +6, -25

Recoloring the Political Map

Richard Morin had a very interesting op-ed in the April 17
Washington Post,
“Pink Is the New Red.”
Morin’s basic point is that way most Americans think about America’s political map is rapidly becoming out-of-date. He observes:

States that were once reliably red are turning pink. Some are no longer red but a sort of powder blue. In fact, a solid majority of residents in states that President Bush carried in 2004 now disapprove of the job he is doing as president. Views of the GOP have also soured in those Republican red states.

According to the latest Post-ABC News poll, Bush’s overall job approval rating now averages 43 percent in the states where he beat Democratic nominee John Kerry two years ago, while 57 percent disapprove of his performance.

Bush is even marginally unpopular, at least on average, in states where he beat Kerry with relative ease. The poll data suggest that in states where the president’s victory margin was greater than five percentage points, his average job approval currently stands at 47 percent. Red? Hardly. A watery pink at best.

And in states where the president’s victory margin was five percentage points or less, a clear majority of residents now disapprove of his performance. Color them light blue.

More ominously for Republicans, their party also has lost standing with the public. Residents of states Bush won in 2004 say they trust the Democrats (48 percent) more than the Republicans (42 percent) to deal with the country’s biggest problems. . . .

[T]hese findings underscore the fact that Bush’s fall from public grace isn’t just occurring in states that were colored blue after the last presidential election. And they once again prove that change is inevitable in politics and that last year’s received wisdom has a way of becoming this year’s political myth.

More evidence on the need to recolor the political map is provided by looking at the
latest fifty state presidential approval data from SurveyUSA.
I applied these data to the following breakdown of states, based on 1992–2004 election results. The SurveyUSA results indicate that, just as Morin suggests, reds are becoming pinker, purples are becoming bluer, and blues are becoming deeper blue.

1. Solid blue Democratic base states. The Democrats have carried these states in the last four presidential elections and the average Democratic margin has been over five points in the last two elections (CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA plus DC, for a total of 183 EVs).

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 29 percent.

2. Purple leaning blue states. The Democrats have carried these states in the last four presidential elections and the average Democratic margin has been under five points in the last two elections (MI, MN, OR, PA, and WI, for a total of 65 EVs). According to 2005 Gallup data, Democrats have party identification advantages in all of these states: 4 points each in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 11 points in Minnesota, 12 points in Michigan, and 15 points in Oregon.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent.

3. Pure purple states. These states have split their support between the two parties in the last two elections (IA, NH, and NM, for a total of 16 EVs). Democrats have party identification advantages in each of these states: 6 points in Iowa, 14 points in New Hampshire, and 8 points in New Mexico.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent

4. Purple leaning red states. These states have been carried at least once by the Democrats in the last four elections and have been carried by the GOP in the last two elections by an average of 5 points or less (FL, MO, NV, and OH, for a total of 63 EVs. Democrats also enjoy party identification advantages in all of these states: a point in Florida, 8 points in Missouri, 12 points in Nevada, and 7 points in Ohio.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent

5. Red vulnerable states. These states have been carried at least once by the Democrats in the last four elections and the average GOP margin in the last two elections has been between 5 and 10 points (AZ, AR, CO, TN, and WV, for a total of 41 EVs). Here Democrats have a 5 point party identification deficit in Arizona, are dead-even in Tennessee, and lead by 11 points in Arkansas, 3 points in Colorado, and 13 points in West Virginia.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 40 percent

6. Solid red GOP base states. These states have been carried by the Republicans in the past four presidential elections or have been carried by the GOP by an average of 10 points or more in 2000 and 2004 (AL, AK, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MT, NE, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, and WY, for a total of 170 EVs).

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 45 percent

The Reemergence of the Gender Gap

In the 2004 election, men favored George Bush by 55 percent to 44 percent, while women favored Kerry by just 51 percent to 48 percent, a notably modest gender gap by recent standards. This led some observers to speculate that the gender gap may be on its way out, as “security moms” and other GOP-leaning women cut into the Democrats’ advantage among women.

But recent data suggest that the gender gap is returning with a
vengeance. For example, consider these data from the latest
Los Angeles Times poll:

  • Nearly two out of three men say the economy is doing well, 53% of women say it is doing badly.
  • A small majority of men approve of the way the president is handling the war on terrorism, but three out of five women disapprove.
  • Male voters are divided over who they would vote for if the congressional election were held today, but 57% of women voters would vote for a Democratic in their congressional district.
  • Male voters are virtually split as to who they want to control Congress, but 56% of women voters want Democrats to control both chambers.
  • Women think Democrats come closer to representing their views (50% to 32% for the GOP), while men think Republicans do, although by a smaller margin (45% to 37%).
  • About a third of men believe the congressional GOP’ers have more honesty and integrity than the Democrats in Congress; the reverse is true of women.
  • Nearly half of women think the Democrats will keep American prosperous for years to come, while men are divided over this issue (each party at 36%).
  • Men by more than two to one think the Republican party is best to handle the war on terrorism, while this time, women are divided.
  • Women by 11 points think the Democrats over the Republicans can do a better job of handling the situation in Iraq, while men give this issue to the Republicans by 16 points.
  • If the November 2004 election were being held today, and knowing what you know today, who would you vote for? The voters surveyed would give Mass. Senator John Kerry the edge over the incumbent, George W. Bush by 10 points (49% to 39%). Once again we see a large gender gap. Male voters were divided, while women voters gave Kerry a 20 point advantage (53% to 33%). Eleven percent who said they voted for Bush in 2004, would vote for Kerry, while just 3% of Kerry voters would switch to Bush.

    The Democrats must be thinking: better late than never! It will be interesting to see if the exit polls this November confirm this re-emergence of the gender gap.

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