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The disappearing Democratic brand advantage

Topics: 2010 , midterm , party brand

Back in October, I noted that the GOP's brand (as measured by its favorable/unfavorable ratings) was in much worse shape than any opposition party at that stage in the previous four midterm election cycles. That stigma, I suggested, might limit Republican gains in the November midterm elections relative to a 1994-style scenario.

Things have changed, however. In a column for Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg flags a new NBC/WSJ poll (PDF) suggesting that the Democratic brand has lost most of its advantage relative to the GOP.

Unfortunately for Democrats, their own brand has fallen like a rock.

In April, almost a year ago, the Hart/McInturff poll found 45 percent of Americans with a positive view of the Democratic Party and 34 percent with a negative view. In the most recent Hart/McInturff survey, the Democratic Party's positives have sunk to 37 percent and its negatives have risen to 43 percent. Yes, those numbers are slightly better than the GOP's (31 percent positive/43 percent negative), but not enough to help Democrats in the fall.

Here's how the net positive numbers (% positive-% negative) for Democrats and Republicans have changed over the course of Obama's presidency:

Nbc netpos

Perceptions of the GOP have only improved a bit, but the negative press and opposition party criticism faced by Democrats have apparently taken their toll. Since my original post in October, the difference in net positive numbers between the parties has closed from 27 points to 6 -- a decline that coincides with the most intense stage of the health care reform debate.

As a result of this change, the difference between the major party brands no longer appears to be unusual for this stage in the midterm election cycle (polls in the chart were the closest available):

Nbcposmt

I interpret this shift as reflecting the underlying fundamentals of the election cycle, which favors the GOP (a Republican takeover of the House is a realistic possibility). The question now is whether the Republicans will continue to gain ground. In 1994, the GOP opened up a major lead in perceptions of the party relative to Democrats between June and October:

94pos

I still don't expect a 1994-style landslide in November, but it seems clear that the Democratic valence advantage that might have helped prevent such an outcome has evaporated.

Update 4/1 2:56 PM: This graphic from USA Today is especially ominous for Democrats' chances:

Cci

[Cross-posted to brendan-nyhan.com]

 

Comments
rdw4potus:

Why on earth would you use red for Dems and blue for GOP?

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Sorry, I forgot to switch to the opposite pattern as per the convention.

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gabe:

All you need to do is look at independents and voter enthusiaism and you see the signs of 1994.

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GARY WAGNER:

It will take some extreme spinning to make much of this poll look positive for Democrats.

In question 12c 61% said it was better for a different party to control congress than the president's party. It never got that high in '94 and we all know what happened to democrats that year.

Question 17a was very interesting. 50% would vote to defeat everyone in congress if it was an option on the ballot. About 72% said they would still do that whether it changed the party in control or not.

The democrats might want to stop shouting that the stimulus was a success. Only 35% think the stimulus was a good thing. Plus, most people do not believe the democrat's claim that the stimulus bill prevented a worse downturn.

I'm sure some professional spinmeisters can find a way to make this look good for democrats, but I don't see how yet.

Things could change but if the election was held today, the democrats would be absolutely slaughtered - possibly a 100 seat loss. We'll see how far up they climb from here.

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William Ockham:

This is a classic example of silly over-interpretation of the polling results. The actual question asked has 5 possible answers (very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, very negative). Once you apply the ~ 3% standard error to each category, you quickly realize that there is almost no evidence of any change in the time period under discussion. The Dems may have had a slight fall off in the number of people with 'very positive' feelings, but there's no trend in any of their other ratings. The Reps have had essentially no change at all. The entire trend displayed in the first graph is a complete artifact of sampling error.

Look carefully at the other graphs. This measure is barely related to actual electoral outcomes. This article is just typical faux horse-race data.

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