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The mood of the public, the mood of the electorate
Posted by: McQ on Friday, August 18, 2006

Interesting results in the latest Pew survey - lots to talk about.
The public is paying a great deal of attention to major overseas events - the reported terrorist plot against U.S. trans-Atlantic jet liners, the war in Lebanon, as well as the ongoing violence in Iraq. However, there is little indication that these dramatic stories have materially changed public attitudes. Worries about another terrorist attack have not surged. The public continues to express high levels of support for Israel, even as a sizable minority views Israel as mostly responsible for the civilian casualties arising from the fighting. And while more Americans say the U.S. is losing ground in preventing a civil war in Iraq, basic attitudes about the conflict are largely unchanged.
A couple of observations. It appears that public opinion about a number of issues has stabilized prior to the '06 midterms. Bush's numbers remain the same (low) and the support or non-support for Iraq seems to remain stable, although more people feel the country is sliding into civil war.

On that last point, I guess that would depend on what you read and believe. For instance, read this story. Now read this. Which is it? "Lost cause" or "guardedly optimistic" we'll pull it off? Where is the truth to be found on the matter?

Whatever the truth, Iraq remains a deeply contentious issue with the public and one which is politically an increasingly valuable one for the Democrats.

That takes us to the upcoming midterms and the possible political consequences to be had:
Attitudes toward the midterm congressional campaign also remain fairly stable, with strong anti-incumbent sentiment persisting and the Democrats retaining a sizable advantage in voting intentions. There is no evidence that terrorism is weighing heavily on voters ­ just 2% cite that as the issue they most want to hear candidates discuss, far fewer than the number mentioning education, gas prices, or health care. And while roughly a third of Americans (35%) say they are very concerned that, if Democrats gain control of Congress, they will weaken terrorist defenses, even more (46%) express great concern that Republicans will involve the U.S. in too many overseas military missions if the GOP keeps its congressional majorities.
Terrorism, as an issue which the Republicans can use to retain their control is losing it's appeal. It may be that success (i.e. no attacks on the US since 9/11) is the Republicans worst enemy in that regard. Americans seem to take things like the uncovering of the various terror plots (in Canada, US and UK) pretty much in stride now and it continues to drop in terms of importance to voters as opposed to other issues. That lack of urgency (for lack of a better term) appears to work against Republicans and their main theme that they are best equipped to wage the war on terrorists. Whether right or wrong, the public may be assuming the proper security apparatus is now in place (given our 5 year success) and they can trust Democrats to run it for a while.

Additionally, since terrorism hasn't touched their lives or the nation in almost 5 years, memories are fading and domestic issues driven by surging oil prices as well as education and health care, are coming to the fore. Those, of course, are perfect issues for the Dems.

As an example, consider what Pew found to be "the most closely followed story" of this particular survey period:
While the public has been closely tracking news about Iraq, Lebanon and the war on terror, this month's most closely followed story is the high price of gasoline. Six-in-ten Americans followed this story very closely, little changed from June (58%).
Pew also talks about the "anti-incumbent" sentiment survey participants voiced:
Voters continue to say they favor the Democratic candidate in their district, currently by a 50% to 41% margin. This reflects overwhelming loyalty among both Democrats and Republicans, combined with the fact that independent voters currently favor the Democratic candidate in their district by a 48% to 34% margin.

Anti-incumbent sentiment remains remarkably high. Three-in-ten say they do not want the representative in their district to be reelected, largely unchanged from surveys earlier this year and significantly more than expressed this view in the 2002 or 1998 midterms. In recent years, only polling on the eve of the 1994 midterm election registered this level of anti-incumbent voting.
That last line is significant as the '94 midterm has always been held up as the bell weather for this sort of sea-change in Congress. Pew is noting that according to its data, '94 and '06 are looking more and more similar. I've read similar analysis from other pollsters. One other thing to note: the attitude has held pretty much unchanged which means minds may be made up for some voters who might otherwise still remain undecided.

On to foreign affairs. The attitude toward Israel is interesting as well:
The survey shows that overall public support for Israel is, if anything, even greater than it was before its cross-border offensive against Hezbollah militants. Indeed, 52% now say they sympathize with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians, a significant increase from July (44%). As far as the situation in Lebanon itself, more than three times as many people blame Hezbollah for the outbreak of violence there than blame Israel (by 42% to 12%).

Overwhelmingly, Americans see Hezbollah as a group that is committed to Israel's destruction. Fully 63% express this view, compared with just 15% who think Hezbollah is a group with which Israel might be able to reach an accommodation. Consequently, a plurality of Americans feel that Israel's response to the conflict has been appropriate, although 21% think that Israel has been most responsible for the civilian casualties that have occurred. Only somewhat more (29%) place most of the blame for civilian casualties on Hezbollah.
At least as it regards the attitude of the American public, it appears Hezbollah wasn't the winner in the PR war. Just as significant was the fact that a large portion (about 40%) of the US public followed the story "very closely".

In fact the 6 most closely followed stories by Americans were, in order, the high price of gasoline (60%), airline terror plot (54%), situation in Iraq (41%), crisis in Lebanon (40%), the hot summer weather (38%) and immigration (34%). Interesting mix, politically speaking.

Last but not least, an example of how the blogosphere does not reflect the public at large (we know that, we just like to think we're normal when in fact we're all a bunch of political junkies):
Just 17% of Americans say they followed news of Sen. Joe Lieberman's primary defeat. Although Lieberman lost in Connecticut's Democratic primary, this story drew more interest from Republicans than Democrats. About a quarter of Republicans (26%) followed this story very closely, including 36% of conservative Republicans. That compares with 15% of Democrats and 12% of independents.
That 17% seems about right when you think about the percentage who get all excited about and turn out for primaries. Political junkies and extremists (relatively speaking). We now get to watch Ned Lamont try to run toward the middle in his November effort. Should be fun.

There's a lot more in the survey, so take a minute, if you have it, and read through it. Comment Corps, your analysis is solicited.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

even as a sizable minority views Israel as mostly responsible for the civilian casualties arising from the fighting
Interested in tha party breakdown of that large minority, I’m pretty sure from other polls I’ve seen that most of them would be with the (D) party...
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I get the feeling from these analyses of various polls that the voting population is feeling something the polls don’t measure very well - contempt for the existing political order and complete uncertainty on what to do about it.

If you’re an independent in the middle, and you know that terrorism isn’t going away on its own, then what do you do? Stick with a leader (Bush) who isn’t very good at making his own case and seems to be stuck in a "can’t do anything more, can’t do anything less" rut? Or take a chance on change for the sake of change by going with completely unpredictable Democrats who want to pretend that it isn’t that big a problem to begin with but at least would have a fresh start on a solution?

Neither of these is something such a voter can enthusiastically get behind.

On the economy, yeah, gas prices are high, but unemployment is lower than during Clinton’s term, and growth is about the same. Inflation is up a slight bit (mostly because of the oil price rice), but many of these voters remember real inflation under the gentleman who has been making such as a$$ of himself the last couple of days - Jimmy Carter. So which party is likely to do better there? To an independent with no ax to grind, there is no clear answer on that - especially if the result is split government that merely cruises with the status quo.

The big problems out on the horizon, such as Social Security and Medicare meltdown, are not items that these voters tend to pay much attention to. It’s clear to me that the Democrats are far less likely to deal with them than the GOP, and divided government it a guarantee of drift as long as it lasts. But then the GOP, or to be more precise, Bush, made the problem worse by larding on a prescription drug plan. So again the lines get blurred. Which party fosters the welfare state? Well, both of them. So whether you like the welfare state or you don’t, it’s hard to figure which party you ought to support.

I think in such a swirling vortex of uncertainty, polls right now are useless. I think this election is going to be decided by events within four-to-six weeks of the election, when people are finally thinking about how they’re going to vote. Right now, they can just look at the mess our leaders have created for themselves and shrug it off. I believe there’s a lot of "I’ll think about that later" going on.

I think it’s quite possible that many of them will shrug it off this fall too, unless some incident close to the election gets people engaged again. Another terrorist attack would certainly do it, and would be resistant to idiotic leftist denunciations about "timing".

Other possibilities are Israel-vs-Hezballah heating up again, or another major plot uncovered, but those are subject to the fatigue factor. That is, people just don’t want to think about them anymore. On the Middle East, I think many average voters have reached the point where they just don’t want to see dead bodies and smoking buildings on the evening news any more. That, of course, is what the propagandists on the Islamic fundamentalist side have been hoping for, and their willing accomplices at places like Reuters have allowed that stage to be reached much sooner than an objective presentation of the situation would. But, no matter how it happened, it’s the situation.

So we can venture out opinions on outcome, but I think it’s just for our own entertainment. Naturally somebody is going to end up being right since the entire spectrum of predictions is covered. But it’s like a group of people who cover the table at a roulette wheel. One of them is going to have the winning number, but it doesn’t mean they were prescient.
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Gas prices, health care, education. And the hot summer weather is spitting distance to "global warming", or at least, very linkable.

Whether or not you personally do or do not believe that Democrats can make life easier for the average voters on these issues, I hear Democrats talking about them and Republicans not talking about them.

What I don’t know is why.

Whatever the GDP statistics are, lower and middle-class voters are unhappy with their stagnated incomes and spiraling expenses, many not covered by inflation statistics. This an important part of the national mood right now. It’ll be even more so in two more years of the same.

I don’t know why the Republican party seems unable to read the writing on the wall, but they’re not doing well at that so far.

Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
So which party is likely to do better there? To an independent with no ax to grind, there is no clear answer on that - especially if the result is split government that merely cruises with the status quo.
I for one am tired of the 2 party system we have in place. Although it may make it easier for the voter who really doesn’t follow politics to fill out his ballot it seems to have come to a point that they spend so much time trying to publicly embarrass each other that they never really do what they are intended to do. If they want to express their views on a given topic that is fine but end it at that and don’t tell me how the opposition is wrong for having a different opinion.
Written By: Mac
URL: http://
Although it may make it easier for the voter who really doesn’t follow politics to fill out his ballot it seems to have come to a point that they spend so much time trying to publicly embarrass each other that they never really do what they are intended to do.
I’m not certain that I would want all the government that I pay for.

Well, maybe if I were paying a lot less...
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Whether or not you personally do or do not believe that Democrats can make life easier for the average voters on these issues, I hear Democrats talking about them and Republicans not talking about them
In all honesty, toss this poll in the trash. Don’t you get the feeling that this is one of those years where the election will be decided by some event that clarifies and defines - some issue is just waiting to explode prior to the election

I’m thinking immigration, but it could be any number of things.

I still think the GOP controls by skin of teeth but it’s like pre-thunderstorm weather out there: volatile and the wind is constantly shifting...
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I’ll echo shark and go one step further:

GOP retains by skin-of-teeth margins, and (despite the impossibility) becomes even less effective at getting anything done that Democrats aren’t pushing them for.
Written By: Dave
URL: http://
GOP retains by skin-of-teeth margins, and (despite the impossibility) becomes even less effective at getting anything done that Democrats aren’t pushing them for.

Even less effective? LOL is that possible

Written By: shark
URL: http://
In all honesty, toss this poll in the trash.
Well you can do that if you wish, shark, but it is sort of whistling past the graveyard. The value of the survey is to be found in the trends, not necessarily the particular numbers or what’s on top today v. what will be on top in 3 months.

As far as trends go, I don’t think it bodes well (at this moment) for Reps. I realize that could all change with some cataclysmic event ... but as it stands now I think the trend points to the "Gridlock is Good" party having its way (ok, that’s neither a Rep or Dem thing, but it is my thing) in November.
Written By: McQ
Yeah, but I say "throw it in the trash" because I just have a feeling that something is going to happen between now and election day that will shape the election, having nothing to do with the current trends
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Some polsters say Americans want the US to have an even handed policy between Israel and Lebanon. When you think about it, it really is only a matter of time until some bright politician makes a big deal out of this.

Different poll results
Written By: cindyb
URL: http://
Among Republicans, 51% said Israel should get the backing of the U.S., while just 22% of Democrats agreed. Instead, most Democrats (62%) said the U.S. should remain neutral.
And you’re proud of that?
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Some polsters say Americans want the US to have an even handed policy between Israel and Lebanon.
I don’t agree, seeing as how Israel is our first line of defense against medieval fundamentalists. I think they should be favored over Lebanon for that purely pragmatic reason, even if we don’t consider the intangibles involved.

But I suppose yours is a defensible position, as long as Lebanon is an independent state not committing aggression. That implies that the terrorists do not exert any significant control over it. Since that’s a questionable assumption, I think that position is quite weak.

It’s important to emphasize that treating Lebanon and Israel in an even-handed fashion is completely different from having an even handed policy between Israel and terrorists that happen to be residing in Lebanon. That is not defensible, as far as I am concerned. Anyone conflating those two positions is being morally obtuse at best.

And if the terrorists effectively control the Lebanese government, in the sense of being able to bend the government to its will on any issue, then your position on treating Lebanon even-handedly similarly becomes indefensible. It’s basically the same as treating the terrorists even-handedly.
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Billy, what it really is - it’s yet more proof that democrats are deeply unserious about security and morality. Treating everyone neutrally isn’t the path to security. Why should the United States of America be afraid to make value judgements of who and what we value? We treat China or Korea differently than we do England. Any party that thinks we should be more even handed towards a failed vassal state that has terrorists as part of it’s govt is not a party that deserves power.........and probably won’t get it.
Written By: SHARK
URL: http://
The numbers that catch my attention in the Pew Poll are:

(1) The "locked in" Democrats would do a better job running the country than Republicans 51% to 41%, with 8-9 don’t know. Poll results unchanged since Sept 2005, unlikely to shift before the election. Gerrymandering does save some seats, but with a 10% gap and the undecideds perhaps going to break Democratic out of frustration as Indies did in 1994...a very concerning - or very joyful if people are upset with 6 years of Republican control in DC and plan on "throwing the bums out".

(2)Reagan’s greatest strength was voters believing "he cares about someone like me". Bush once had that, by proxy so did the Republicans. It was still 56% to 36% "They care about me" in 2003. By August 2006, it had flipped to 41% cares, 51% don’t care.

(3) Voters disapprove of the Republican economy 33-59%. Despite all the congrats on a "strong economy"...the disenchantment appears to be that all the gains are going to a wealthy few.

(4)The media is just in the "it’s all about Iraq" autopilot again. Pew says that the issues voters are MOST concerned about, based on what they want the candidates to discuss are: 15% Education, 12% Energy crisis, 11% Healthcare access and costs, 10% Iraq, 9% Immigration, 8% Economy problems. It aggregates 47% most concerned about particular domestic issues, 27% Economic issues, 21% Foreign matters. In 2004, it was also according to all the Party activists and the media that follows them around about "Iraq and Terrorism".....then they were shocked! Just shocked! To learn that VALUES were what voters cared about.

(5) It would be a wise Republican that breaks with Bush and the Democrats over Open Borders Immigration, calls for education reforms the Dem Teachers unions oppose to catch us up with the superior Asian and European systems. And admits wealth is concentrating in a small oligarchy in America - and something does need to be done to make the burden fairer so the very wealthy have to pay as much a percent of their income in total taxes and middle class and upper-middle class workers do. That part of our high gas prices are due to pig-headed ideologues blocking both energy conservation and development new oil and gas supplies - without tossing the red herring of "exciting new alternate energy sources" out. Say we need to do BOTH. Concerve and bring new supply on, because all conservation gains have been negated by population growth mainly from legal and illegal immigration. And endorse the Romney healthcare plan.
Written By: C. Ford
URL: http://
Actually, it’s our failure in Iraq that has made terrorism a less effective issue for Republicans, not the lack of an attack. After all, it appears we were very nearly attacked again recently, and only the British and Pakistani intelligence and law enforcement agencies saved us. If anything, it made people in America think: "Hmm, what exactly is Bush doing to stop terrorism? Iraq! That’s the central front in the war on terror." Now who among us was thinking to himself, "Thank God our troops are fighting in Iraq! We’re fighting them there so we won’t fight them here." I know I wasn’t. The terror scare only brought home the disconnect between the war in Iraq and the larger fight against Islamist terrorism. Terrorists reared in western European democracies nearly murdered thousands of Americans - despite our efforts in Iraq (I won’t say "because of" Iraq since I have no idea what motivated these people). The central front is, geographically, the same place it was in 2001: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, within the Muslim communities in western European democracies, and in pro-US Arab dictatorships like Egypt. As for state sponsors, has Iran been weakened by our presence in Iraq?

In a few weeks nobody will even remember the airline plot, unless it actually comes to fruition. Iraq, on the other hand, will remain front and center. And despite Jim Nicholson’s pathetic attempt at "guarded optimism" (based on whack-a-mole in Baghdad with too few US troops), the outlook is very bleak. There are bad options and there are worse options. We can debate which is which. But we are a long way from the "Strategy for Victory in Iraq" in the halcyon pre-2/22 days of November 2005 - not to mention the summer of 2003. Bush will get his accountability moment in November 2006, whether or not the Democrats have all the answers.
Written By: Elrod
URL: http://
Twice in one week, I’m forced to agree with Mr. Ford. I’m sure he’s as surprised as I am. Immigration is a hot button issue which the President and his merry band have absolutely refused to take substantial issue on. It’s been shown time and again to be a non-partisan issue with almost as many Dems as Reps supporting tighter border control. Also, education reform is a potential hot button issue and would only benefit a canny Republican candidate who pushed for major changes (as pointed out teachers are almost exclusively Dem union slaves).

I don’t know that the answer to economic woes is to tax the rich further, but I do agree that the middle class has been taking it pretty hard since at least Bush I. I’m also with Mr. Ford in that we do urgently need a radical new energy policy. Conservation only goes so far on its own as does exploration and exploitation of new fossil fuel sources. Both must be pushed a lot more along with a viable plan to develop renewable energy sources. No administration has taken this issue seriously. And now we get to pay $3+ a gallon for gas. Thanks FDR, Harry, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Tricky Dick, Gerry, Ronnie, George the First, Billy, and George Deux!
Written By: The Poet Omar
The fact that "terrorism" is so far down on the list of concerns may in fact just reflect the small threat caused by it.

Consider that an individual is much more likely to die of a heart attack, than in a terrorist attack. It seems to me, engaging in regular exercise is more healthy than worrying about terrorism. Here’s a list of causes of death, in the US, last year:

Heart Disease 696,947
Cancer 557,271
Stroke 162,672
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 124,816
Accidents (unintentional injuries) 106,742
Diabetes 73,249
Influenza/Pneumonia 65,681
Alzheimer’s disease 58,866
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis 40,974
Septicemia 33,865
Terrorism 1

It would take 232 September 11 attacks every year to equal the number of deaths caused by heart disease. Think about that for a good, long, while.
Written By: Nicolai Brown
The fact that "terrorism" is so far down on the list of concerns may in fact just reflect the small threat caused by it.
That may well be the perception and, as I argue, sucess agains subsequent attempts ironically works against the Republicans.
Written By: McQ
Fair enough. But let’s look at this on an issue level, rather than an electoral one.

Even in 2001, the year of the Sept. 11 attacks, terrorism was a much smaller threat than the flu and random accidents. And a much smaller threat than heart problems.

It takes a lot of government/media propaganda to convince someone that terrorism is a serious threat. And people get tired of the government threatening them all the time, and are more likely to approach the issue in a rational manner. Hence the diminished fear of terrorism, which as I have shown, is justified by the facts.
Written By: Nicolai Brown

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