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Takeaway: Clearly, the Republicans will gain ground in this election, but will it be as drastic as many pundits believe? We don’t think so.

Yesterday we hosted a call with highly regarded political pollster Scott Rasmussen to discuss today’s midterm elections.  In the link directly below, we’ve included a replay to the call as well as the presentation that Rasmussen prepared for the event.

AUDIO REPLAY

PRESENTATION MATERIALS

Rightfully, Rasmussen argued that elections are always about the fundamentals.  Accordingly, one of the most relevant fundamental drivers in any national level election is the approval rating of the President.  Currently, President Obama’s approval rating is as close to as low as it has been since he was elected.  According to an aggregation of polls from Real Clear Politics, Obama’s approval rating is 41.9% and his disapproval rating is 53.4%. To put that in perspective, Obama’s approval rating is very similar to that of President Bush prior to the 2006 mid-terms.

WILL THE DEMOCRATS MAKE-OUT BETTER THAN EXPECTED - chart1

As a result of President Bush’s low approval, among other factors, the Democrats saw broad based success in the 2006 midterms.  In aggregate the Democrats gained a net +31 seats in the House to take control, they gained a net +5 seats in the Senate with one Democratic getting elected as an Independent to effectively take control of the Senate, and they won a plurality of the 36 state governorships that were up for grabs.  As a whole, 2006 was a very convincing victory for the Democratic Party across the board.

Given that approval ratings for President Obama and President Bush were very comparable, there is no question that this race will be incrementally positive for the Republicans.  As goes the approval rating of the President, so too goes the fortunes of his or her party.  By and large, this is also what the consensus media outlets are reflecting.   Below are some of the headlines from around the country:

“On Election Day, GOP Confident, Voters Sour” – New York Times

“Where Did Obama Go Wrong?” – Washington Post

“Obama Will Leave the Dems in Shambles” – DC Examiner

The list could go on, but broadly speaking the mainstream media and consensus is extrapolating a sentiment reading from Obama’s approval data and predicting a dour night for the Democrats.  To some extent, the election will play out this way.  The question of course, as Scott Rasmussen raised on our call yesterday, is how motivated the anti-Obama vote becomes.  In essence, will the disapproval of Obama motivate Independents to vote against Republicans, or just discourage them from participating at all?

The generic polling data actually suggests the latter.   According to the Generic Congressional poll (a poll that asks the voter to simply choose between a party for their congressional votes) aggregated from Real Clear Politics, the Republicans currently have a +2.4 point lead.  To put this in perspective, in 2006, the year of the Republican bloodbath, the Democrats had a lead of +11.5 points going into the midterms.   

WILL THE DEMOCRATS MAKE-OUT BETTER THAN EXPECTED - chart2

The other key fundamental data point to consider is that motivation among eligible voters does seem low.  According to a Gallup poll taken in late September, the percentage of people “extremely motivated to vote” sat at 32%, which is well below 50% in the same poll from 2010 and 45% in 2006.  There is no reason to believe that voters have become more motivated in the last month.

The takeaway, if there is one, is that while this will be a long night for the Democrats, it may not be quite as long as the herd in the consensus media is projecting.  Undoubtedly, the Republicans will gain seats in the House and likely win the Senate, but it may be a tighter margin than many expect as voting seems likely to fall across party lines with a broadly unmotivated electorate.  

So, could the so called “October Surprise” be the Democrats faring better than expected? Perhaps, although it is more likely that this is will conclude as a non-event election resulting in the Senate shifting to the right and no decisive mandate emerging for the Republicans.

As we head into the election tonight, there are three key battlegrounds that will provide early indications:

1. New Hampshire Senate – The polls in New Hampshire close at 7:00pm, and the Senate race here is currently in a dead heat.  While Scott Brown is enduring the “carpet bagger” label, he also has momentum on his side as he has narrowed the margin in every poll taken over the last six months.   If Brown wins this seat, it will be a very long night in the White House and for Democrats nationally.

2. North Carolina Senate – The polls in North Carolina close at 7:30pm, and this race is currently too close to call based on the polls. However, it has similar dynamics to the NH race in that Thom Tillis has been consistently closing in on incumbent Senator Kay Hagan over the last six months and likely has the benefit of momentum.

3. Georgia Senate – The Georgia polls close at 7:30pm eastern, and currently the Republican candidate for this open seat, David Perdue, has a lead of +3.0 points, which suggests he is likely to win this seat.  The read-through from this race will likely be his margin of victory.  If Perdue looks likely to win by a lot more than +3 points, it is likely indicative of broad based national Republican momentum.

If the Republicans do well in those three races, you can probably head to bed early.  If not, it may be a long and very interesting night.

Daryl G. Jones

Director of Research