Rasmussen Retorts
The pollster chats with NRO about the midterms and more.


Jim Geraghty

GERAGHTY: What result has surprised you the most this cycle?

RASMUSSEN: When we did the Scott Brown poll in early January and it showed a nine-point race and a two-point race among the most likely voters, I thought, “Boy, we’re going to be way out there on a limb!” That was not where the expectations were, so that was a shock in the early part of the cycle.

Another race that surprised me — right from the start — was Russ Feingold’s. He wasn’t in the Harry Reid position, he didn’t have big-name opposition once Tommy Thompson dropped out, and yet here he is in a toss-up race. I had expected that once Thompson dropped out, we wouldn’t be seeing that.

The other race that has been a real shock to me this year is Barbara Boxer’s in California. I’ve said a million times — I know she always polls poorly, but it’s still California — and I was saying early in the year, if we’re still talking about this race in September and October, it means things really are going to be bad for Democrats. Well, here we are, and she’s still tied.

GERAGHTY: Can Republicans blow it in the last two months?

RASMUSSEN: It depends on how you define “blow it.” Is it possible that they will blow it to such extent that this ends up being just a “normal” midterm, with the Democrats losing 15 to 20 seats? No, I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think that they’re going to have only minimal gains in the Senate. But how close they get to gaining control of the Senate and whether or not they gain control of the House, that’s still up in the air. But that ultimately has less to do with Republicans than with Democrats, because this election is all about the party in power.

This election is a referendum on the Democrats — it’s not a referendum on incumbents as much as on the Democratic party. We put out a poll last week that I think captures some of the basic mood. Most Americans believe, as they have for decades, that cutting government spending and cutting taxes is good for the economy. That’s just sort of a bedrock belief of the American people. At the same time, they believe that the Democrats in Congress want to increase spending and increase taxes. That creates a tough road when you’re the party in power, when you’ve got that kind of perception out there.

GERAGHTY: In 2006, voters seemed to tune out GOP incumbents’ criticism of their Democratic challengers. In a year when one party has clear momentum, like this year, do voters disregard criticism of the party they’re not angry at? In other words, does the tie go to the challenger in a race like Sharron Angle vs. Harry Reid?

RASMUSSEN: The things that scare people about Sharron Angle aren’t at any risk of becoming law right now, but the things Harry Reid is boasting about — passing the health-care law, for example — are very real. So yes, the tie goes to the challenger at this point in time.

That Nevada race is the mud-wresting match of this year. Both candidates are growing so unpopular that if voters go into the booth thinking about Harry Reid, then Sharron Angle will win. If voters go into the booth thinking about Sharron Angle, then Harry Reid will win.