Early Polling for 2012

Because political junkies can’t get enough, here’s a poll from Democracy Corps, suggesting that House Republicans may have some difficulty holding on to their gains. As dubious as we all ought to be about such early predictions, their summary seems logical (although I’ve not yet dug into the details).

A new survey by Democracy Corps in 50 of the most competitive battleground Congressional districts – nearly all of which gave a majority to Obama in the last presidential election – shows the new Republican majority very much in play in 2012.

The Republican incumbents in these districts, 35 of them freshmen, remain largely unknown and appear very vulnerable in 2012 (depending on redistricting). In fact, these incumbents are in a weaker position than Democratic incumbents were even in late 2009, or Republican incumbents were in 2007 in comparable surveys conducted by Democracy Corps.

These incumbents, identified by name, have an average approval rating of 35 percent across the 50 districts, with 25 percent disapproving. Another 38 percent were not able to give the candidates a rating, suggesting lack of visibility. This is about 10 points lower than the approval rating Democratic incumbents held in July of 2009 (with comparable disapproval rating).

More importantly at this early point, just 40 percent of voters in these districts say that they will vote to reelect their incumbent (asked by name in each district), while 45 percent say that they “can’t vote to reelect” the incumbent.

This leads to a congressional race that is dead-even in the battleground. After winning these seats by a collective 14 points in 2010, these Republicans now lead generic Democratic challengers by just 2 points, 44 to 46 percent, and stand well below the critical 50 percent mark. The race is dead even in the top tier of the 25 most competitive seats—46 percent for the Democrats versus 45 percent for the Republicans. In the next 25 seats, the Republicans have a slight 42 to 47 percent advantage.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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30 Responses to Early Polling for 2012

  1. Pinky says:

    .
    Unless there are some major changes in Republicans like Governor Moamar Walker of Wisconsin, the Republican Party will do well to hang on to any but the most idiotic Southern states.

  2. D. C. Sessions says:

    And then there’s the “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” side of things:

    http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/2185/grover-norquist-vetoes-both-deficit-reduction-and-tax-reform

    I’ve been suspecting that electing a whole freshman class of bomb-throwers, along with threatening the incumbents on your own side [1] is going to dominate the 2012 elections. If Boehner can keep something like party discipline then the Republicans have a pretty fair chance of taking control of the Senate and maybe the White House, but if the TPC and Norquist prove to have more leverage than Boehner, the showdown is going to come too early.

    I’m still expecting the key event to be the debt limit vote. If the House refuses to authorize an increase thanks to TPC and Norquist, it’s going to be spectacularly ugly — much more so than a “government shutdown” — because unlike a “shutdown,” there there’s a lot more money differential and there aren’t any policies in place to cover the situation.

    I can see three general outcomes in the House (rough order of likelihood):
    1) Authorized by a coalition of 100% of the Democrats and enough Republicans to pass.
    1a) The Republicans slip in a bunch of the usual add-ons in expectation that it’s a can’t-be-allowed-to-fail bill and maybe as bribes to fence-sitting Republicans.
    1b) The Bill passes in pretty much plain form, partly due to the reality that the Senate will strip the more extreme stuff out anyway.
    1c) (Pigs fly): the House Democrats drive a hard bargain and toss in some sweeteners of their own.
    2) The bill fails thanks to the Republicans going hard core.
    2a) More or less straight party line vote.
    2b) (More porcine aviation) The Democrats abstain: let the Republicans show the country what they do when they have power.
    3) (Pigs not only fly, but are joined by arboreal elephants) The bill passes after the Democrats abstain but the Republicans flinch at the thought of totally owning the consequences.

    Overall odds of the increase passing are too close for me to bet a nickel on.

    [1] Thus tossing Saint Ronnie’s Eleventh Commandment out the window

  3. AMW says:

    That’s bad news. I think the experience of the last 25 years or so is that divided government is the best we can reasonably hope for. It would be a shame to go back to a one-party government.

  4. D. C. Sessions says:

    I think the experience of the last 25 years or so is that divided government is the best we can reasonably hope for. It would be a shame to go back to a one-party government.

    What is it about the USA that is so much less capable than the rest of the world? Most developed countries have Parliamentary systems with, by and large, unicameral legislatures. By nature one-party government is the rule rather than the exception — and they do all right. In fact, the tradition of a “loyal opposition” seems to serve rather well.

  5. James Hanley says:

    What is it about the USA that is so much less capable than the rest of the world?

    I think the increase in partisan gerrymandering probably explains 60% of it. Make districts as competitive as possible and you limit the potential for bombthrowers to take office. A divided government of bombthrowers is bad enough, but a unified government of bombthrowers is a nightmare.

  6. D. C. Sessions says:

    Getting kinda OT, but it’s your blog:

    A divided government of bombthrowers is bad enough, but a unified government of bombthrowers is a nightmare.

    Almost by definition, bombthrowers can’t form a unified government. The whole point of throwing bombs is to disrupt the opposition so as to drive them from power. Once they radicals have power, they shift to other tactics. As we’re seeing in the House right now, as a matter of fact.

    We’ve managed to go from “anyone opposed to the majority is a traitor” to “the party of NO” to “dissent will not be tolerated” in eight years. Pretty impressive, actually.

  7. James Hanley says:

    Point taken. Can I just soften it to “bomb-throwing types“?

  8. D. C. Sessions says:

    Of course you can — it’s your blog, after all.

    Perhaps the more interesting question is what we should infer from the fact that bomb-throwing as a political strategy is effective for an American political party: they disrupt the Government, and as a result gain control of it. So far this has worked twice in recent memory.

    Which is why I’m really interested (besides the pragmatic matter of fearing the outcomes) in how the debt-limit extension goes. IIRC there isn’t much left on that clock and yet there’s no news of action on it either.

  9. James Hanley says:

    Which is why I’m really interested… in how the debt-limit extension goes

    You and me both. A (sane) Republican friend of mine was complaining that people in his county organization are really excited about a) no extension of the debt limit, and b) governance via 6 week-long continuing resolutions. They think it’s the greatest thing since barbecue spare ribs.

  10. D. C. Sessions says:

    A (sane) Republican friend of mine was complaining that people in his county organization are really excited about a) no extension of the debt limit, and b) governance via 6 week-long continuing resolutions. They think it’s the greatest thing since barbecue spare ribs.

    I confess, in the spirit of “the worse, the better,” to a guilty hope that they actually do refuse the extension [1]. If not that, at least an attempt to actually balance the budget without raising taxes — after all, that’s what they claim The People sent them to Washington to accomplish.

    [1] Almost as much as the Democrats, and notably the President, joining the vertebrates.

  11. AMW says:

    What is it about the USA that is so much less capable than the rest of the world? Most developed countries have Parliamentary systems with, by and large, unicameral legislatures. By nature one-party government is the rule rather than the exception — and they do all right.

    In practice don’t many/most of those parliaments end up with coalition governments? I would count that as divided.

  12. D. C. Sessions says:

    In practice don’t many/most of those parliaments end up with coalition governments?

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Our Gracious Host probably has better numbers than I do, but from a totally unscientific recollection of sporadic newspaper coverage over the last 30 years I’d say that an actual majority rules more than half the time. Even in Israel, which has managed to set itself up to favor coalition governments by giving so much effective power to single-issue religious parties.

  13. AMW says:

    Even in Israel, which has managed to set itself up to favor coalition governments by giving so much effective power to single-issue religious parties.

    I lived in Israel back in the 90’s, and that assessment didn’t seem right to me. Sure enough, according to the omniscient wikipedia, Israel has not had a single majority party government since at least 1996.

  14. D. C. Sessions says:

    I stand corrected — at least WRT Israel. Most of my recollections of Israeli internal politics are older; some of my college friends were pretty involved in the early 70s.

  15. Lance says:

    At least our de facto “two party”, winner take all, system doesn’t require entirely new governments to be formed when coalitions breakdown. Italy’s parliamentary system had 57 different governments just between WWII and the year 2000. Five of which lasted less than fifteen days.

  16. ppnl says:

    We need to get rid of political parties and the entire Gerrymandering primary system. Either that or vote for the party rather than the candidate and give the party real power. What we have now is the worst elements of both systems.

  17. James K says:

    ppnl:
    I’d finger the weak US parties as a big reason for why your government functions poorly. In New Zealand parties have extensive control over their backbench MPs, to the point where it’s a big deal when an MP votes against their party.

  18. James Hanley says:

    Our Gracious Host probably has better numbers than I do

    I’d like to say flattery will get you whatever you want, but unfortunately I’m not a comparativist. I’ll try to catch my colleague today, who is, and see what he says. All I can say off the top of my head is that it generally depends on the threshold for attaining seats–the higher the percentage of the vote necessary for a party to get seats, the fewer parties there will be. That’s just a simple mathematical truth. And my impression is that coalition governments are more common than single-party governments, but I can’t vouch for that.

    Re: Lance’s point about Italy. I used to think Italy’s frequent governmental collapses was a bad thing, but I’ve come to a tentative change of mind on that in the past couple of years. Italy doesn’t exhibit the signs of a failed state, and I’ve come to suspect that the inability of governments to persist indicates an incapacity to make big changes, which may create conditions of stability that make investment relatively safe.

    Re: ppnl and JamesK on political parties. Parties are never going away. Most political scientists think democracy is inconceivable without parties. Parties help organize voters’ beliefs and mobilize them. And parties developed for the purpose of winning elections–the side that unilaterally disbands loses the organizational coherence that enables them to win election and will inevitably lose. So the existence of parties is an equilibrium outcome.

    That said, JamesK is right that America has particularly weak political parties. Because of our primary system for selecting candidates, parties have very little control over their elected members. Politicians are far more reliant on their constituents than on their party for continued electoral success. Most political scientists think we’d have better governance if we had stronger parties, because then more principled and coherent policy programs could be established, instead of having to appeal to each Senator/Representative separately for their vote, and buying it with whatever some small but particularly vocal sets of supporters back in their districts want.

    From that angle, our insistence on district representation is also part of the problem. I think we might be better off to do away with congressional districts and have each state be a multiple-member district for representation in the House. Michigan, for example, would have 15 at large Representatives in the House, instead of 15 Representatives of single-member districts. It would be perfectly constitutional, too.

  19. James Hanley says:

    My colleague has spoken, and he says that coalition governments are the overwhelmingly dominant norm. In his words, “if you want single-party government, you have to look at either England or Jamaica.” There are, of course, a few other examples (he was rushing to class, so was in a hurry), but apparently not many.

  20. AMW says:

    “if you want single-party government, you have to look at either England or Jamaica.”

    Singapore is another prominent example. And of course, it is a counterexample to my claim that divided governments generate more sensible policies. But then, Singapore’s governing party is pretty strong, so maybe it gets the benefits you and JamesK mentioned above.

  21. ppnl says:

    James K.

    I’d finger the weak US parties as a big reason for why your government functions poorly.

    I agree but I think this could be fixed if they fixed the primary process. That would be far easier than attempting to expand the role of political parties.

  22. James K says:

    I think fixing the primary process would expand the role of parties, so I don’t think we actually disagree.

  23. James Hanley says:

    If by “fix” you mean eliminate the primary process and allow the parties to pick their candidates, then, yes, that would expand the role of primaries.

    But “fix” is a pretty vague term, so I’m not sure what either of you actually have in mind.

  24. ppnl says:

    By “fix” I simply mean altering the system to minimize the ability of a political party to game the system with Gerrymandering and other tactics.

    Voting districts must go. State representatives should be elected by the entire state. This makes it harder and more expensive to corral voters into districts where their votes can make no difference. Worse than corralling the votes districting corrals the political agendas addressed to the small subset important to battle ground districts.

    Get rid of the electoral college. The president should be elected by popular vote. Originally the electoral college system was intended to increase the power of the states. But the system is being used to corral votes and agendas to achieve national power. In most cases it can reduce the power of the states since you need not spend any time in “safe” states. Just continue to pass some pork their way in between elections. Oddly the more loyal they are the less pork you have to carve out for them.

    Use some kind of instant runoff voting. This lets people vote for a candidate that has little chance of winning without them feeling like they are wasting their vote yet it keeps the winner take all result. This again makes it hard to corral votes and agendas.

    The political party should be reduced to basically a special interest group. In one sense this demotes them. But in another sense it frees them from the primary system and they can advocate for a candidate that furthers their principles rather than one that can get out the vote in key districts.

  25. lance says:

    Italy doesn’t exhibit the signs of a failed state, and I’ve come to suspect that the inability of governments to persist indicates an incapacity to make big changes, which may create conditions of stability that make investment relatively safe.

    So it’s the same result of what our system calls “gridlock” but by virtue of lack of persistence time (sorry if that is interjecting science jargon but I am a physics geek).

    “The government that governs least governs best” even if it is by virtue of its short duration?

    OK, I like that.

  26. James K says:

    James Hanley:
    That’s what I mean by fix, some things are best fixed with a stick of dynamite.

    ppnl:
    I like some of your reform ideas. While districts work well enough in New Zealand I think history shows your politicians can’t be trusted with them. Popular voting probably makes more sense for the president these days, wasn’t there an initiative a few years back where a bunch of states were going to effectively turn the Presidential election into a popular vote?

  27. James Hanley says:

    Lance,

    Yes to the first part, but not necessarily yes to the second part. I wouldn’t say that Italy “governs” least, since it has a well-established and fairly effective state bureaucratic apparatus. I’d just say that it “changes” least.

  28. lance says:

    Yeah, I guess you can have an entrenched bureaucracy chugging along just fine even if the elected officials are playing musical chairs.

  29. D. C. Sessions says:

    Yeah, I guess you can have an entrenched bureaucracy chugging along just fine even if the elected officials are playing musical chairs.

    Or for that matter any other top-layer honchos. There’s a reason Imperial China invented the civil service, after all.

  30. lance says:

    Good point D.C.

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