Having written a few days ago of my objections to the media’s obsession with public opinion polls, I probably should have passed on the suggestion from my friends at FrumForum to address the topic de jour—a new CNN poll showing likely major Republican gains in the upcoming midterm elections. But, let’s face it; I have as much vanity as the next guy. And like every other aging political operative, I will offer my opinion on just about anything in the news. A lot of my fellow hacks get paid by CNN, Fox and MSNBC to spout off on such things, while I am left to amuse myself and bore loved ones and friends to utter distraction. So when Frum calls, I dash to the computer (and my wife heaves a sigh of relief)!
CNN is reporting that its latest opinion research “…shows big similarities between 1994, 2010”. The headline is, indeed, the entire point of the story: polls today are similar (although not identical, it is worth noting), to those taken in the summer of 1994. We are reminded (as if that were necessary), that in November of 1994 the Republicans took control of Congress in what was regarded as an upset victory. We are urged, therefore, to believe that Republicans are poised to win again this year.
Let me make several points, in no particular order of importance.
- I don’t need any polls to tell me that Republicans will do well in November. The “out” party almost always shows significant gains in the first midterm election of a new President.
- Barack Obama’s 2008 winning margin was somewhat out of synch with the political alignment of the country at the time. Obama won big, and brought others in with him, because the GOP ticket of McCain and Palin was awful. Barack Obama was a terrific candidate, to be sure, but his effort was aided immeasurably by monumental incompetence on the other side.
- The country is horribly split these days, and the divisions are along ideological, racial, ethnic, cultural, economic and, to some extent, geographic lines. There is an “independent” middle, to be sure, but it lacks focus, philosophical anchors, and leadership. It is also fickle as hell. If independents drift right this year, it will be good for the Republicans. If they drift even slightly left, it will help the Democrats.
- In making the “2010 is like 1994” analogy, the CNN folks cite Obama’s approval numbers in comparison to those of Bill Clinton at this point in his presidency. They also cite Congress’ standing with the public today versus then, and we learn that people don’t like Congress any more in 2010 than they did in 1994. Thanks to CNN, we now know that President Obama is about where Clinton was in the polls 16 years ago, and Congress is in the dumper today just as it was then. It is here where a dose of skepticism regarding the “2010 = 1994” construct might come in handy. Bill Clinton and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill went into that midterm election with not a whole lot to brag about. Sure, they had passed a tough budget and NAFTA, but they had failed to deliver on healthcare reform, and the process of failing was butt ugly. Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats actually have a fair amount to brag about. Republicans don’t like what they’ve done, but Democrats should. And a fair number of those fickle middle ground independents are sure to be turned off by Republicans who appear to be pandering to hard core social conservatives, anti-immigrant nativists, and Tea Party know-nothings.
- Finally, it is important to remember that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a very smart, very tough, and very determined political leader. Her skills served her well in the climb up the leadership ladder and one should assume that she has every intention of using those same skills to stay where she is. For the longest time Democrats made underestimating Ronald Reagan their fulltime hobby; I hear Republicans doing the same thing when it comes to Nancy Pelosi. They don’t like her, therefore she’ll fail. Uh, uh….big mistake.
A month ago I was betting that the Republicans would make big gains in both the House and Senate, but would fail to gain a majority in either chamber. Today I think the Republicans might win the House but still come up short in the Senate (primary results in several states have hurt the GOP’s prospects). Next month the picture could be a bit different, and by November it could change even more. Today’s CNN analysis may turn out to be prescient. But it also might turn out to be bogus. I suggest we wait until the morning of November 3 to make that judgment.