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Electoral politics is a zero-sum game

Topics: 2010 , midterm

In yet another 1994/2010 comparison piece, the New York Times suggests, as I once did, that the Republican Party's image problems might limit its gains in November:

Moreover, the Republican Party has a different image than it did in 1994. At that time, Republicans had been out of control of Congress for long enough that they were able to present themselves as the party of change. They were viewed unfavorably by just 39 percent of Americans. By contrast, 57 percent said in February that they had an unfavorable view of Republicans in a New York Times/CBS News poll.

While it's true that Republicans are viewed more negatively than they were in 1994, that's not the relevant comparison in 2010. Electoral politics is a zero-sum game. What matters is the strength of the Republican image relative to Democrats. And as I showed a couple of weeks ago, the gap between the parties' images is now comparable to 1994:

Nbcposmt

As such, there's no reason to think that the GOP's negative image will protect Democrats, especially given the likelihood that the Republican brand will continue to gain luster (as it did between June and November 1994). For the purposes of campaigning, all poll numbers are relative.

[Cross-posted to brendan-nyhan.com]

 

Comments
Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

Party identity is drastically different now than in 1994. Far fewer people are willing to identify themselves as Republican. Evangelical leaders already have one foot out the door. The NYT was spot on. Republican gains are going to be limited.

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Aaron_in_TX:

Yes, the gap is similar, but it's inverted. that's in no way analagous. According to your graph, republicans are twice as unpopular as democrats while in 1994, they were twice as popular. This suggests to me that only where republicans outnumber democrats will they make substantial gains.

Many of the dems in districts McCain won will lose. These are many of the same people who voted against health care. A smaller but more unified majority might actually help the democrats.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Party identity is drastically different now than in 1994. Far fewer people are willing to identify themselves as Republican. Evangelical leaders already have one foot out the door. The NYT was spot on. Republican gains are going to be limited.

And the Americans are nowhere near Baghdad. I repeat: Nowhere near Baghdad.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/123362/Independents-Lean-GOP-Party-Gap-Smallest-Since-05.aspx

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Aaron, the 1994 and 2010 numbers aren't inverted -- in both cases, Democrats had approximately a 5-6 point lead in net positive/negative ratings.

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Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

@Westwoodnc Westwoodnc

I didn't get your comedic intent. Anyway, that gap should look terrible to Republicans. First, it shows that Democrats still lead. Next, the number of people identifying themselves as Independents has increased dramatically.

Here are a few articles about this phenomena that have been written in the past week:

http://www.kansas.com/2010/04/09/1261645/number-of-unaffiliated-voters.html

http://www.politicsrealm.com/independent-voters-are-moving-from-party-loyalties-to-personal-principles/

http://www.wmicentral.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=20419427&BRD=2264&PAG=461&dept_id=506172&rfi=6

http://66.226.4.226/news/2010/04/05/many-california-voters-discontented-political-pari/

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gabe:

Article after article speaks for itself. Analysts and Democratic pundits defense that GOP gains will be limited is because they are unpopular. Well when you see both parties unpopular at the same level than that defense goes away. The data here speaks for itself. The GOP's net negative rating, now equal to Democrats is now at a level unlikely to hinder their gains.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

@Shannon,

It seems like you were born yesterday, but ever since the Great Depression, GOP ID has always lagged that of the Democrats except for a brief period in 2002. Democrat self-ID is almost laughably higher than it really should because a huge chunk of that are Southern and conservative. If election results were strongly correlated to party ID, we'd have Pres. Mondale, a second term of Jimmuh, Speaker Gephardt, and no GOP in the South. But that's not reality is it?

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Field Marshal:

It doesnt matter if the parties are net positive or net negative. What matters is the enthusiasm and the indie vote, which both favor the reps.

Yes, both parties are not liked but the rep and indie voters are upset and trending Rep which plays into the GOP hands. It would be a perfect year for a third party but there are none to be had.

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Aaron_in_TX:

@ Brendon

Yes, they are not inverted as I look at it again, sorry. The red/blue is confusing. Why didn't you make the dems blue and the reps red?

Still, the unpopularity for reps is still double that of unpopularity for dems. Compared to 2006, the republican position looks worse. They were -8 or -9 then, now -12 or -13, while dems were -5 then, now -6 or -7. I'm not sure your graph represents what you're trying to say.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Aaron_in_TX:
@ Brendon

Yes, they are not inverted as I look at it again, sorry. The red/blue is confusing. Why didn't you make the dems blue and the reps red?

Still, the unpopularity for reps is still double that of unpopularity for dems. Compared to 2006, the republican position looks worse. They were -8 or -9 then, now -12 or -13, while dems were -5 then, now -6 or -7. I'm not sure your graph represents what you're trying to say.

===

Please read the chart carefully. In 1994, the Dems' favorably rating gap was twice that of the GOP, and they lost 54 seats. You can say that it doesn't really matter if people like the Dems or not, what matters is the gap. Today, the GAP is essentially THE SAME even if BOTH PARTIES ARE HATED. Notice that in 2006 that the Dems gained seats over the GOP even when both parties were still viewed unfavorably. Brendan is saying that it's the un/favorability gaps that matter the most. It's also important to note the other years in the gap. When the Dems gained in 1998, the gap was +10 for them. In 2002, when the GOP gained, for the Dems it was -12.

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Aaron_in_TX:

"but ever since the Great Depression, GOP ID has always lagged that of the Democrats except for a brief period in 2002."

Yes, that is a testament to the power of FDR's and the democrats' message during and after the Great Depression. No one has been able to harness it like FDR did, and people continued to identify as democrats for decades as a result.

That message is no longer as powerful and the "reagan democrats" have mostly died off. Conservative democrats are now few and far between and mostly vote like republicans anyway, making their designation as democrats irrelevant. I think these generic polls are becoming more accurate as a result of demographic changes and stronger ideological cohesion within the parties. The "traditional" stregnths of democrats are no longer necessarily stregnths. They generally lead issue polls on foriegn policy now, usually considered a republican stregnth. Economic issues are split.

Speaking of 2002, according to this graph, the GOP had a net 14 point advantage in generic polling but they gained only 8 house seats in 2002. In comparison, the dems had a net advantage of 4 points in 2006 but gained 31 seats. There was also not much of a relationship in 1998 between generic polling and number of seats gained, so I'm not convinced of the predictive power of generic polling based on this evidence.

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Aaron_in_TX:

"Notice that in 2006 that the Dems gained seats over the GOP even when both parties were still viewed unfavorably."

Yes, but the pattern is the same as 2006, only slightly worse for the republicans. By that logic we would be saying the democrats are going to gain more in 2010 than 2006. That's not likely.

Perhaps I'm reading this chart completely wrong, but I just don't see the relationship between generic polling and seats gained based on this. It seems to only suggest that generic polling in March of a mid-term year says little about how many seats a party will gain in November. The GOP gained big in '94 (-5, gained 54) lost modestly in '98 (-9, lost 8) gained modestly in '02 (+14, gained 8) and lost big in '06 (-4, lost 31). I don't see the correlation.

A more relevant measure might be the enthusiasm gap vs. seats gained.

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Aaron_in_TX:

If it was a zero sum game, then in 2002, the republicans should have gained dozens of seats.

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Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

@Westwoodnc Westwoodnc

No, I wasn't born yesterday. It seems that the numbers have caused you to resort to personal attacks. So, I'll throw more numbers at you.

You now seem to think that numbers don't reflect reality. Then, why are you here on pollster.com? Here are some more numbers to think about?

The DNC has outraised the RNC in the month of March:

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/campaign-committees/90935-dnc-tops-rnc-as-committees-milk-health-care

Everyone here talks about an enthusiam gap. I think its been largely created in the media. Not only are Democrats raising as much money as the Republicans, they are being better stewards of their funds, i.e. they aren't spending the money at strip clubs.

Gallup is tracking peoples confidence in the economy. In less than a month, March 14 - April 4, there was a 7% gain among Independents who felt that the economy was improving. There was a 15% gain among Democrats who felt that the economy was doing better. However, Republicans became 6% more pessimistic.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/127295/Democrats-Economic-Confidence-Improving.aspx

With nearly 7 months to go until the mid elections, you can see where this is going. Independents are lean less towards the Republicans than they currently are. This in itself is going to limit Republican gains.

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Aaron_in_TX:

" they are being better stewards of their funds, i.e. they aren't spending the money at strip clubs."

Republicans are hoping that simple distaste for democrats will translate to automatic gains. This isn't exactly true. In 1994, Newt Gingrich had terrific organization and messaging. The DNC had great organization in 2006, even though the messaging was mediocre. The RNC seems to have neither right now, which will hinder their gains if they can't get it together. The NRSC seems more prepared than the NRCC at this point.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Aaron_in_TX:

Speaking of 2002, according to this graph, the GOP had a net 14 point advantage in generic polling but they gained only 8 house seats in 2002. In comparison, the dems had a net advantage of 4 points in 2006 but gained 31 seats. There was also not much of a relationship in 1998 between generic polling and number of seats gained, so I'm not convinced of the predictive power of generic polling based on this evidence.

====

That graph is not a generic polling graph, it's a favorability chart.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Look Shannon. You can live in a fantasy bubble where Democrats are gonna gain a supermajority. I've seen it before. I heard the exact same "everything is awesome!!!" wishful thinking that the GOP played in 2006 and 2008. I remember getting flack in many many online debates in conservative websites for claiming that Frank Newport isn't a communist and that the numbers are horrible for the GOP. Conservatives had a constellation of excuses when bad polling comes out (I've heard them all, here's a brief rundown: trash poll, minorities won't vote, shy Tory effect, pollster is a Democrat, what enormous double-digit partisan gap?) Are you smarter than Nate Silver, Charles Franklin, Stuart Rothenberg, Brendan Nyhan, Mr. B., etc for seeing what obviously their facts and analysis do not? In 2006, the RNC kicked DNC's butt in fundraising. In 1994, the DNC kicked RNC's butt in fundraising. Why? Because the party in power will obviously get the most money. They have more politicians and more public money to throw around.

That said, I wouldn't put it past the GOP to f*ck it up. Yes, there's an even chance that they'd probably underperform due to organization. It is important to note however Nyhan's last paragraph:

"As such, there's no reason to think that the GOP's negative image will protect Democrats, especially given the likelihood that the Republican brand will continue to gain luster (as it did between June and November 1994). For the purposes of campaigning, all poll numbers are relative."

He means it gets worse for the Dems from here on out. People (swing voters) will simply become increasing less likely to BELIEVE Democrats as this grinds on. Failure has its own momentum. They've obviously turned away front the Dems' claims on health care, stimulus, cash 4 clunkers, Gitmo, just to name a few. The next round of Democratic bills like financial reform and amnesty aren't going to be any more popular. It's NOT because the bills are not Democratic enough, or that the Democrats are doing "nothing" to fight the GOP, it's because the public is sick of this sh!t.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Everyone should study this chart that Franklin posted earlier.
/blogs/Last200GenericBallot1946to20101.html

Find anything interesting in those graphs? For the 12 years that the GOP controlled the House, not one of them showed the blue trendline dipping below the red. You can also see from the data points of generic ballot polling that the Dems are almost ALWAYS ahead of the GOP. The 1996 is interesting because almost all poll showed Dems with a single high-digit to double digit lead. That was only good for 8 seats for the Dems.

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Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

@Westwoodnc Westwoodnc

"You can live in a fantasy bubble where Democrats are gonna gain a supermajority."

I'm not here to make outlandish claims. The last time I was here was the eve of the election.

I have said that Republicans are going to under perform. They are not going to take the House or the Senate. Their gains are going to be limited. I think Republicans failure to take the House and the Senate, and the necessity that they'll have to compromise after the 2010 elections, is going to give rise to a third party that will split the conservative vote in 2012. Republicans are running on fear and anger. Its out of control. Their base is going to expect their leaders to continue with angry rhetoric and they're not going to. What do you say after the mid term elections? We're going to stop work in the House and the Senate? It's just not going to look good when the country is moving ahead and out of the recession.

You might think that people are going to be upset with the cash for clunkers program. Hardly, the people driving around in new cars are happy. Detroit is happy. When the cash for appliances program launched a few weeks ago, it ran out of money the first day. That's a few million more people who's attitudes just changed. Every day the stock market goes up, so to will peoples appreciation for the stimulus program. To make it worse for Republicans, their argument is "Well, if you throw a trillion dollars at it, it bound to help". That only reinforces in peoples minds that the stimulus worked.

Republicans are doing it all wrong. Their just say 'No' campaign is ridiculous. Their repeal and replace campaign is even worse. Every Republican running on that platform knows that they won't have the numbers to repeal and replace. Repealing and replacing isn't going to happen.

Any bill that makes credit default swaps illegal is going to be popular. So, I disagree with you that a financial reform bill will be unpopular. The changes enacted would be effective and immediately. What might not be so popular is a environmental bill. It's effects are largely unknown and it would take years to prove its worth.

Again, the public's mood changes daily.

Did you notice that the Ukraine gave up it's nukes today? Today was perceived as a good day as the Dow closed above 11,000.

Good luck with your anger and pessimism.

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Aaron_in_TX:

"That graph is not a generic polling graph, it's a favorability chart."

OK, well sub favorability for generic and still there is little relationship.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Shannon,Dallas,Texas:
Did you notice that the Ukraine gave up it's nukes today? Today was perceived as a good day as the Dow closed above 11,000.

====

Ukraine has given up its nuclear weapons since 1996 (http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/ukraine-to-dispose-of-enriched-uranium-20100413-s4li.html). Again, kinda like his ill-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, attributing victories to Obama which he never won is common practice of his cult. Where you popping champagne by the way when the Dow reached 14,000 under Bush? I doubt it, it doesn't matter to you then, and it only matters now because you're part of the cult.

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Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

@Westwoodnc Westwoodnc

Does that make you mad?

Did you notice that China is agreeing to sanctions against Iran?

From the AP:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_us_china

"China and the United States share the same overall goal on the Iranian nuclear issue," the Chinese statement said.

Enjoy.

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Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

@Westwoodnc Westwoodnc

"Where you popping champagne by the way when the Dow reached 14,000 under Bush?"

Yes, I was.

I was also popping champagne the day Bush left office. The Dow was at 7949.

For the record, the Dow was around 9,890 when Bush took office. It's high was around 13990. So, it moved about 4,000 points before coming down to 7949. Bush oversaw a net percentage loss of wealth unequaled since the Great Depression. His pro-corporate pro-wealthy policies pushed jobs overseas and decimated the middle class.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Shannon,Dallas,Texas:
@Westwoodnc Westwoodnc

Does that make you mad?

Did you notice that China is agreeing to sanctions against Iran?

From the AP:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_us_china

"China and the United States share the same overall goal on the Iranian nuclear issue," the Chinese statement said.

Enjoy.

====


O h I will. FTA: "The upbeat assessment reflected a recent warming of U.S.-Chinese diplomatic ties, but the meeting produced NO BREAKTHROUGHS. Chinese spokesman Ma Zhaoxu did not mention sanctions in a statement on Hu's meeting with Obama."

Again, giving Obama credit for something that did not happen. Get deprogrammed Shannon, my god you need it.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

By the way, here's what Robert Reich (D-ex. Secretary of Labor), who is a well-known teabagging Repugnicunt Reichwing ZIONIST have to say about Obama's awesome economy:

"Given how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed, it's hard to see where we get sufficient demand to support a vigorous recovery. Outlays from the federal stimulus have already passed their peak, and the Federal Reserve won't keep interest rates near zero for very long. Although consumers are beginning to come out of their holes, it will be many years before they can return to their pre-recession levels of spending. Most households rely on two wage earners, of whom at least one is now likely to be unemployed, underemployed or in danger of losing a job. And even households whose incomes have returned are likely to be residing in houses whose values haven't—which means they can't turn their homes into cash machines as they did before the recession."
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304222504575173780671015468.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

Take all of that though with a grain of salt because that midget Reich (D) is like, PALIN and BUSH ***COMBINED***.

Cheney.

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Shannon,Dallas,Texas:

Reich is looking at the economy from the perspective of citizens. Government money is going to continue to flow into the economy. There will likely be another jobs bill. Scott Brown, in voting with the Democrats to extend unemployment benefits, is probably going to help make that happen. Also, tax receipts went up for the second straight month. Meaning, the government is finally taking in more revenue. Productivity is at an all time high. It's unsustainable going into the summer months. I think the average work week is now at 35 hours/week. That's high. Companies are going to be forced to hire with the increase in consumer demand.

Most economists missed the crash. I think Nouriel Roubini was one of the few who predicted it. Now, they're predictably being conservative in their estimates.

Unemployment is at 9.7%. There might be a small uptick for the next month as more people re-enter the job market. However, by November, we could be looking at low 9s. It should be around 8.3% by 2012.

China recorded it first deficit since 2004. They signaled that they will be raising rates by 3% to keep inflation in check. Right now, there's a housing boom going on in China. The cost of Chinese goods here in America could rise 10-15%. Manufacturing has been rising for the last few months here in the US. So, I think that trend will continue.

Here's the bottom line:

The economy is going to beat expectations. Republicans are talking it down like it's a lame horse with a broken leg. The media is talking it down. Economists are talking it down. Meanwhile, Joe the plumber is checking his 401k account and sees growth. He gets a little more secure about his job and decides to quit hiding money in his mattress. Congress is going to continue to spend us out of this downturn because a.) that's the only way to do it b.) the stimulus was designed to work that way.

If I was a Republican I'd start setting real expectations for the economy. The wrong thing for them to do is to say that Armageddon is coming because when it doesn't come Democrats will be given credit for having averted a real crisis. They need to contribute some Republican sponsored legislation. If the economy comes back, they'll need to be able to point to something to take credit. The only way they'll get Democrats to pass a Republican sponsored bill is to do something like allow Democrats to close GITMO.

So, this game is about expectations. Republicans pinned themselves into a corner with a bunch of single issue radicals that want to see Republicans get radical about their issue and amp the rhetoric.

Do you seriously think America is going to go the way of Rome in the next 10 years given where we are today, and more importantly, where the rest of the world is today? Well 75-90% of Republicans think so, and they've convinced a sizeable (but slowly decreasing) percentage of Independents that America is going down because of Obama's job killing socialist policies.

If and when the Dow reaches 12,000, Republicans will have lost most if not all Independents that could care less about ideology. That's my take. I could care less about Reich's take on things.

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