Our most recent national survey, which was completed between June 18 and June 22 among 1,008 likely 2016 presidential voters, is showing some rather early but complex trends that could transform the Obama years into a new political era.
The Democrats for the second month in a row lead Republicans for Congress 44 percent to 42 percent.
The key for the Republicans is that one in six of all voters, 18 percent, disapproves of the job that President Obama is doing, but is not voting Republican. However, last November, it was this segment of voters that, when they finally decided their vote, went from undecided to voting Republican, and they carried Republicans to a bigger majority in the House and control of the U.S. Senate.
Right now both parties remain polarized in their vote for Congress. Republicans vote for Republicans 95 percent to 1 percent. Democrats vote for Democrats 90 percent to 5 percent. Independents are evenly split at 32 percent for each party, with 36 percent undecided.
Since January 2014, when we began our monthly McLaughlinOnline.com survey, the president has never been in positive territory. This majority disapproval of the president’s performance propelled the Republican landslide last November and could still shape the trends among voters this year and next. But, then again, if Republicans do not focus clearly on issues, it might not.
The key voter group that disapproves of the job Obama is doing and that is not voting Republican now supports Democrats for Congress 59 percent, with only 41 percent undecided.
Last November, 83 percent of the voters who voted Republican for Congress disapproved of the job Obama was doing, with only 15 percent approving. Today, those voters who would cast their ballot for Republicans for Congress disapprove of the job Obama is doing by a virtually identical margin of 83 percent disapproval to only 16 percent approval.
By contrast, those voters who would vote for Democrats for Congress approve of the job Obama is doing by 75 percent to only 24 percent who disapprove. Those who are undecided for Congress disapprove of the job Obama is doing by 52 percent to 42 percent who approve. The critical difference between now and last November is that Democrats are now winning higher levels of support from voters who disapprove of the job Obama is doing, and they have the potential to gain more undecided voters who disapprove of the job Obama is doing as well. By party affiliation, only 17 percent of Republicans approve of the job Obama is doing, while 81 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, it’s the opposite, as 78 percent approve and 21 percent disapprove. However, among independents, 61 percent disapprove and only 36 percent approve, a margin of nearly two to one.
In this presidential year, enough Democrats could be motivated to come out to outnumber Republicans. And in spite of the fact that some disapprove of the job that the president is doing, they are still willing to vote decisively for Democrats for Congress and probably the Senate, too.
Unlike 2010 and 2014, which were clearly referendums on President Obama, and 2012, which was a polarized battle to drive up turnout on each side, 2016 might not be a referendum on President Obama’s policies. It could be a choice between two different visions of the future. That would be bad for Republicans.
In light of the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare’s individual mandate and subsidies, it’s important to note that the majority of voters still disapprove of Obamacare, 50 percent, and only 46 percent approve.
In fact, those voters who disapprove of Obama’s job performance and who do not vote Republican disapprove of Obamacare 72 percent, compared with only 23 percent who approve. Independents disapprove of Obamacare 54 percent to 39 percent. It’s very clear that the Republicans would benefit from a sharper contrast with the Obama Democrats on this issue.
The majority of American voters still favor a smaller government with fewer services over a larger government with many services — 56 percent to 31 percent. This trend has grown since January.
Even 39 percent of Democrats favor a smaller government, and independents favor smaller government 63 percent to 26 percent; undecided voters for Congress favor smaller government 53 percent to 22 percent. A focus on the size of government should benefit Republicans.
Most damaging to the President’s party is the fact that nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, of American voters say that the county is on the wrong track. Only 28 percent say the country is headed in the right direction.
However, among those who say the country is on the wrong track, only 53 percent are voting Republican; 32 percent vote Democratic, and 15 percent are undecided. So 30 percent of all voters say the country is on the wrong track and they are not voting Republican. If the Republicans intend to win the White House and hold their majorities in Congress, they need a very clear contrast with Obama and his failed policies. They need to hold the president and his party accountable for their failures, whether in the realm of security, the economy, or general social decline.
Probably the biggest beneficiary of the trend away from President Obama is his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Last month, Hillary Clinton was a polarizing 46 percent favorable to 47 percent unfavorable. This month, she’s 49 percent favorable to 45 percent unfavorable: an improvement of five points.
So today, Secretary Clinton has an overall positive rating while her former boss has a negative rating. This is a key sign that undecided voters for Congress like Secretary Clinton a little better — 43 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable. Also those voters who disapprove of the job Obama is doing and who are not voting Republican are still evenly split about Hillary — 46 percent favorable to only 46 percent unfavorable.
So, unlike President Obama, Hillary can help Democrats hold their generic lead for Congress and then split the undecided vote. Hillary Clinton is starting to show the Democrats a path to victory that separates her from President Obama.However, Secretary Clinton’s image is still mainly tied to President Obama. Those voters who approve of the job Obama is doing strongly like Mrs. Clinton — 79 percent favorable to only 15 percent unfavorable. Those voters who disapprove of Obama mostly dislike Hillary — 72 percent unfavorable — but 23 percent are still favorable to her. So the key swing voter is a voter who disapproves of the job Obama is doing but is favorable to Hillary Clinton. They are 12 percent of the total electorate.
The way for Republicans to defeat Secretary Clinton is to tie her strongly to the job and the policies of President Obama that have failed and put in America on the wrong track. The simple message is that Hillary Clinton is a third term for Barack Obama — a third term of declining security, economics, and society overall.
This consistently strong disapproval of the president and the feeling that America is on the wrong track explain why the Republicans have all the energy and why we have a growing field of high-caliber candidates. The most effective nominee will be the candidate who presents the sharpest contrast to the president’s failed record. This is also why there’s no energy on the Democratic side. Their choice is between Hillary Clinton and not Hillary Clinton — a very tired contest.
If the Republicans intend to win in November 2016, for the next 16 months they need to run one more time against Obama, creating a referendum on “Obama and Clinton’s third term.” It’s a simple, clear, and effective message. President Obama will take the bait, and once she’s sure to win the primary, Hillary Clinton will run from it.
— John McLaughlin is a Republican strategist and a partner in the national polling firm McLaughlin & Associates.
Editor’s note: All the graphs in this article should be dated June 2015, not May 2015. Apologies for the error.