The Campaign Spot

Bad News in a Mere 86 Seats for Democrats Today

Glen Bolger offers our first eye-opening poll numbers of the day. Apparently a GOP lead in polls in 39 Democrat-held House districts is small potatoes.

Back in June, the survey that Stan Greenberg and I conducted for NPR was huge news. Conducted in 60 Democrat-held and 10 Republican-held seats, it showed Republicans ahead by a 48%-39% count in the Tier 1 seats (30 most vulnerable) and up 47%-45% in the Tier 2 seats (next 30 seats). It was the first indicator to the national media that a wave was building.

Once again working with Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research (GQR) we just did a similar survey for NPR. However, we expanded to all the seats on the Cook Political Report’s list at the time — 86 Democratic held seats (53 in Tier 1) and 10 GOP seats.

As always, any analysis on this blog is solely mine and does not reflect that attitudes and opinions of either NPR or GQR.

The ballot test is NOT the same as a generic ballot. Rather than simply ask if they were voting for the Republican or the Democratic candidate, we tested actual candidate names by district. While the sample size per district is too small to look at any single campaign, it does give clear direction on the situation in the House Battleground seats.

In the Tier 1 seats, the Republican candidates lead 48%-44%. The GOP candidates are tied with the Democratic candidates at 45% each in Tier 2, and in the GOP seats (which are actually heavily Democratic), the GOPer leads 49%-42%. Combined across the 86 Democrat-held seats, the GOPer leads 46%-44%.

(For reference, averaged across the Tier 1 Dem seats, McCain actually won those districts in 2008 by a 50.1% to 48.6% margin. In the Tier 2 Dem seats, McCain lost 48%-50.9%. The GOP seats voted just 40.6% McCain and 58.1% Obama (remember, the GOP seats wouldn’t be on this list if they were safe seats!).

Not every one of those Dem seats are going to go Republican — clearly much hangs in the balance. However, incumbents who are polling 45% or below when there is a wave against them lose.

Underscoring the importance of the enthusiasm gap, Republicans lead 50%-41% in the 86 Democrat seats among high interest voters — those who rate their interest as an 8-10 on a scale of 1-10. That is reinforced by the finding that low interest voters prefer the Democrat by a 32% GOP/55% Dem margin. So, the group that Democrats are doing best with don’t care.

Stan Greenberg makes the point that these are heavily screened voters, so even the less interested ones are likely to vote. I’m a little more skeptical, and it underscores the hard road the Democrats have on motivating their voters. If they succeed, they’ll hold their losses down below 50, and if they fail, the losses will cross over the 50 level and could be huge.

There were 58 seats that we tested in both June and October. In June, the GOPer led 49%-41% in those seats. Now, the GOP lead is smaller — 47%-44%. But again, these are mostly incumbent seats and, aggregated, the Dem is both losing AND below 45%.

On paper, these narrow margins aren’t terrible news for the Democrats. But Bolger’s point about incumbents is pretty strong; voters in these districts, by and large, know who their incumbent is and how they feel about them. While it’s possible that Democrat House incumbents come up with some fantastic closing argument in these two weeks, they’re probably pretty near their ceiling right now, and the mid-40s is not a healthy place to be.

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