George Washington University’s annual Battleground poll is hailed as one of the most accurate polls in American politics. It is a bipartisan poll, conducted by both Republican and Democrat pollsters.
I spoke this morning with Ed Goeas, President and CEO of the Tarrance Group, to get his take on some of the data.
The overall theme of the numbers is that President Obama is being tested on his spending. That is what people are now paying attention to… which accounts for his relatively low job approval in relation to his personal approval. The trend, according to Goeas, is an opportunity for the GOP.
“The biggest thing was the intensity of the Republican voters. This is the first time we’ve had that advantage in five or six years,” he explains. In addition, the generic ballot is only +3 for Democrats.
How significant is that +3? Not very, according to Goeas, who cites Michael Barone’s theory that the plus three is actually relatively even when you take minority districts into account. Both men draw a parallel to the numbers of the Republican Revolution of 1994.
In addition, the the Independent voters are swaying with the Republicans for the first time in five or six years as well – and in some cases, the intensity of the Independent voter is even stronger than that of the Republicans. The lack of intensity in some scenarios, says Goeas, is a carry over from the significant disappointment experiences by Republicans in recent years.
“The determining factor is Independent voters. They respond to thematics, not specifics.” And they’re responding to the Republican thematics in a big way.
The Obama administration seems to have fallen into a trap. They ran the most researched campaign in history, spending $30 million in September and October alone… more than the Republicans and Democrats combined spend in the last three elections. That has continued into the presidential term – they’re still investing heavily in polling.
What are they really gaining from the polling? According to Goeas, they’re learning which words get them high poll numbers. They’re not refining policy to raise numbers, they’re rephrasing the question. The language changes – we’re gone from “is the stimulus working” to “Is the stimulus on track”. We started with “health care reform” and moved in to “insurance reform”. They figured out that people don’t care as much about universal coverage as they do about lowering cost… so that has become the focus.
People still trust the Democrats on the three largest issues: health care, education, and the economy. Those are long time Democratic strongholds, and that is powerful. How powerful? Ed reminds us that regardless of the inherent trust on issues, Republicans have won on specifics in these areas before. It’s possible.
So I asked Mr. Goeas what the takeaways from this survey should be. What exactly were the opportunities he was alluding to? He summed it up in three points:
- GOP intensity is rising. That momentum could be good in Virgina and New Jersey. Voters are passionate, and that is good.
- The Independents are swinging to the right. Bonus.
- The GOP is doing well with the senior vote. That matters. Generally, in non-presidential election years, the senior vote rises 5% and the youth vote drops 5%. This could mean good things for mid terms.
Go check out the numbers. Seize the opportunities. Knowledge is your friend.