THE BLOG
06/29/2010 10:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fighting Conventional Wisdom on Deficits, The Economy and the Strength of the GOP

In prepping for my last two segments on Fox News (here and here) I had to review new polls which had some not so good news for Democrats. The first was from Public Policy Polling. The second one from NBC/Wall Street Journal.  In digging down on these polls, I found some surprising results (perhaps for DC):

Democrats Still Hold a Substantial Lead in Party ID -- In each poll, the Democratic Party held a 9 point Party ID advantage over the GOP (45/36 in NBC/Wall Street Journal, 43/34 in Public Policy).  9 points is of course a bigger spread than the  actual vote in each of the last two elections, which broke 53% to 46% for the Democrats.  In 1994, by comparison, the GOP had a party ID advantage over the Democrats. 

What is remarkable about these findings is that the structural shift away from the GOP and towards the Democrats is not showing signs of abating.  Looking at the Congressional Generic Ballot (even these days, with Ds and Rs being in the mid 40s) and Obama/Dem approval (mid to high 40s) there is evidence the Democrats have lost some ground since 2008.  But there simply is no evidence in either of these polls that the GOP has gained at all, and remains in the same mid 40 percent range -- or less -- the party achieved in each of its last two losing election performances (Real Clear Politics average of the Generic Congressional Ballot now has the Democrats up a bit, 43/42.6 -- if you take out the always GOP biased Rasmussen it is closer to 2 points now).

In fact, a reasonable interpretation of these polls is that the GOP is stuck at a ceiling of 45/46/47, the Dems have dropped to similar terrain, but with Party ID being so strong for the Dems, there is more of a clear path now for them to regain their lost ground than for the GOP to grow beyond their current position. With the GOP now stuck in the mid 40s, a lot of what happens in 2010 will depend on what happens with that 5-8 percent the Democrats have lost -- will they come home? Not turn out? Go to the GOP?

It is fair to say from these polls that neither party should be happy with their position 4 1/2 months from the 2010 midterms.  The Democrats have lost too much of their recent historic vote, and the GOP has not shown any capacity to take advantage of the Democratic weakness.

Spending and Deficits Are a Secondary Concern For Most Voters -- Adding in a third recent poll, a YouGov/Economist poll, the other remarkable thing in these recent polls is how clear it is that spending and deficits -- despite the media frenzy of late -- remain a secondary concern -- at best -- for most voters.  In each poll, as in most polls over the past five years, the economy is the overwhelming concern of voters, with the spending/deficit numbers far behind.  As it should -- for every day Americans suffering through a "lost decade" of no wage and income growth, the state of the economy is a much more immediate and significant concern than the more abstract concern about the federal budget.   Concerns about deficits and spending spike among conservatives and Republicans, but in the In The Economist poll, for example, less than 10 percent of moderates and independents cited the deficit as a major concern.  In the NBC poll, those citing the importance of deficits actually dropped over the past month and still trailed the economy by 20 points. There simply is no data in these polls showing spending/deficits to be the killer app of 2010.

In each poll there was a great deal of intensity about spending and the deficit among Republicans, and much more interest in the economy/jobs in the rest of the electorate.  Which begs the question -- how did the Democrats allow fiscal issues to become so dominant? I take a look at that in another post, this one on how the all important debate over the economy might play out this year.

Come to Our Event Wednesday Which Will Look at All This In Greater Detail -- On Wednesday, NDN will be holding an event, noon, at our offices, which will take a much deeper look at all this matters.  Join us live, or on the web. 

If anyone can find polling which shows spending and deficits to be ranked higher than these two polls showcased by Fox News please send them our way.

This essay is cross-posted at the NDN Blog.