I've been watching Fox News so I am well aware that the Democratic apocalypse is near. Beginning with Scott Brown's improbable victory in Massachusetts, it was just a matter of time before the complete repudiation of the president's agenda that these commentators prophesized would come true. After all, according to the right wing talking heads, November is spelling doom for the Democrats -- if you listen to people like RNC chair Michael Steele you'd know the Dems would be lucky to even hold onto a single contested seat. It all sounds quite frightful -- if only it were true.
I may not be poll guru Celinda Lake but a simple reading of recent state-by-state polls should give this conventional wisdom some pause. Are the Democrats going to lose seats in November? Absolutely. Is this the second coming of the Republican Party? Hardly. Taking a look at recent swing state polls illuminates this fact. Comparing Obama's vote totals in the 2008 election with his current approval ratings we see that the drops in his approval, while present, are not as ominous as some would like us to believe.
In Missouri, a state the president narrowly lost in 2008, his approval ratings have dropped about three points. In North Carolina, a state won by less than 20,000 votes out of over 4 million cast, the president's approval has dropped a mere two percentage points. In Florida, a state decided by 500 votes in 2000 and won by less than three percentage points in 2008, Obama has seen his approval rating dip seven points since the election results came in. The swings in approval amplify the fact that these states are swing states for a reason: they don't belong to any particular party and popularity fluctuates depending upon the election cycle.
These numbers hold true in Iowa, New Mexico and even Ohio -- one of the greatest of swing states. In Ohio the president has seen his support drop by five percentage points since Election Day. If the health care plan, Recovery Act and Gulf oil spill are his nadir, than these polls don't strike me as a bad place to be at your bottom.
It's true that the president still isn't popular in states where, well, he wasn't popular to begin with -- but what does that really say? One could just as easily point out that in states where the president won by double-digit margins (California, Hawaii, Maryland, Illinois) he still maintains approval ratings hovering around 60 percent. In Massachusetts, where Scott Brown's victory was supposedly the penultimate death knell of the president's agenda, Obama still maintains a 56 percent approval rating. Not exactly something that makes for exciting cable TV or three-hour long AM radio, but it is just as factual.
It doesn't take a presidential historian to know that if the President and Congress are led by the same political party, that party will generally lose seats during the first off-year election. In recent history it was true for Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan and by all historical accounts we should expect it to be true for Barack Obama.
Yes, the president will see his party lose some seats in November. And the Democrats have some serious work to do on selling their successes on health care and the economy to an understandably skeptical electorate. If they don't, they can count on a healthy November correction. But if they stop acting defeatist, and stop listening to the talking heads, they may just find that November holds a silencer for conventional wisdom.
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