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Bush Job Approval
Voting Issues: Two-thirds of Americans (66%) are at least somewhat confident that ballots were properly counted and the right candidates were declared the winner in Tuesday's election. See Data. This figure includes 64% of Republicans and 69% of Democrats. Thirteen percent (13%) believe large numbers of people were prevented from voting even though they should have been allowed to vote. Fourteen percent (14%) have the opposite concern and believe large numbers of people were allowed to vote who shouldn't have been allowed to do so. Twelve percent (12%) know someone who thinks their vote was not properly counted.
Rumsfeld: News today that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld resigned puts an instant policy stamp on new political landscape in Washington. A survey conducted ten days before the election found that a plurality of Americans were looking for his resignation. That survey also found that 56% of Americans rated the situation in Iraq as poor. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans were looking for a different approach.
Recapping 2006: Very few surprises last night for Rasmussen Reports visitors... and in our business that's a good thing. We're especially pleased with our 49-49 projection in Virginia. See our final Election 2006 Scorecard--a comparison of our poll results with election results.
Still, while the results were generally expected, the reality of a Democratic Congress probably feels a bit different than expected to activists on both sides of the partisan divide this morning.
Clearly, the issue of the day was Iraq. While we're not sure specifically what that means for policy in the coming two years, it is likely that a new approach will be in place before 2008. We'll be releasing some data later today on public attitudes on bringing home the troops and related topics.
On domestic issues, Democrats in Congress will walk a tightrope as they prepare to defend their majority in 2008. They'll need to find enough action to satisfy activists in their own party. At the same time, Nancy Pelosi and her team will have to remember that their victory resulted from national disenchantment over the situation in Iraq.
As for corruption, Congressional Democrats will certainly try to change the tone, but it's not clear what they could do to convince voters that anything is different. This is not a comment on the Democrats, but rather an observation about the depth of public cynicism about politicians.
Election 2006: Those of us who live and breathe polls and political news sometimes need help keeping Election Day in perspective. That means stepping back from the last minute hype and expectations and taking a larger look at was has happened during this campaign season.
This is hard to do because expectations of gains for Democrats have risen so high that they might obscure our assessment of today's results. At the low end of the expectations game, Nancy Pelosi's party is expected to pick up about 20 seats to gain control in the House while picking up at least four in the Senate to make that Chamber nearly evenly divided. At the other extreme, some Democrats are thinking of 40 or 50 seat gains in the House along with six or seven in the Senate.
In this environment, some commentators have re-defined victory for the GOP as retaining control of the U.S. Senate. That's certainly an achievable goal for the Republican Party (though by no means assured). However, it hides the reality of what the Democrats have accomplished in 2006.
Even at the low end of expectations, today will be a very good day for the Democrats. If Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid had been told in January that their party would gain control of the House and pick up four seats in the Senate, they would have jumped for joy. Karl Rove would have declared such an outcome as out-of-touch and unrealistic.
One measure of how far things have fallen for the GOP is found in Virginia. This Senate race was supposed to be a warm-up for George Allen's 2008 Presidential campaign. The only question was which sacrificial lamb would take the defeat for the Democrats. Instead, the race here has transformed the state into part of a GOP firewall to stave off loss of the Senate.
Democratic gains result from a combination of the overall issues environment and local factors. On the issues front, Iraq is the first, second, and third most important issue of 2006. It's what gave the Democrats the advantage and made it possible for them to begin dreaming of controlling Congress.
Adding to that were a number of local factors such as Allen's "maccaca" moment and the Democrats' skillful linkage of Jack Abramoff and Montana Senator Conrad Burns. The Foley incident damaged some individual Republican prospects and the Tom DeLay debacle forced the GOP to run a write-in campaign in a District that seemed safely their's a year ago.
Rasmussen Reports expects that the Democratic gains in the House will number in the 20s today. But, we have not been polling House races and the situation remains quite fluid. But, the significant news is that we are likely to see a Speaker Pelosi.
As for the Senate, we expect a four-to-six seat gain for the Democrats. This could lead to either party having a 51-49 majority or a 50-50 split leaving the GOP in charge by virtue of Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.
Montana and Tennessee: Montana and Tennessee have crawled back into Toss-Up status in our Senate Balance of Power summary. They're not pure Toss-Ups like Missouri and Virginia, but they're close enough that anything can happen.
In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns (R) has been mounting a furious comeback. While Jon Tester still has a slight edge in the race (two points), the trend has been unmistakably in the GOP direction. Ironically, Burns is one candidate who might be helped by the overall GOP weakness this year. If Montana voters have a simple choice between Jon Tester and Conrad Burns, Tester probably wins. However, while Montanans may be ready to fire Burns, they're a bit more reluctant to have Democrats take over the Senate. Visits by President Bush and Vice President Cheney this week drew more attention to the national implications of this race.
It should probably be noted that the same national forces helping Burns in Montana have also helped Bob Menendez in New Jersey. The only difference is that Menendez was never in as much trouble as Burns, so he looks to be headed for re-election on Tuesday.
In Tennessee, it's the Republican who has a slight edge, but the Volunteer State campaign has seen more twists and turns than just about any other this season. In the month of October alone, shifting fortunes have had this state listed at various times as "Leans Republican," "Leans Democrat," and "Toss-Up." The trend is recent weeks has been to Corker and the Republican leads now by four points. However, there is still a chance this state could slip away from the GOP if the Democratic wave is a bit stronger than anticipated.
The Final Weekend: When 2006 began, most Democrats would have been pleased to know their party would gain four seats in the U.S. Senate this cycle. Heading into the final weekend of the season, it looks like that will happen. When all our data is released to the public, our Senate Balance of Power summary will show 49 seats for Democrats, 49 for Republicans and two Toss-Ups.
Heading into the final weekend, however, most Democrats will be disappointed if they end up with 49. Expectations have been raised so that anything short of gaining a majority will be disappointing.
To reach the magic number of 51, Democrats need to win two Toss-Up races against Republican incumbents. The two Toss-Ups are in Missouri and Virginia. If these races are split between the GOP and the Democrats, it will probably be a 50-50 Senate.
The Missouri race was always expected to be a cliffhanger. The fact that Virginia ranks as a Toss-Up is one of the big shocks of Election 2006 (early in the year, we even ran Presidential election match-ups featuring an all-Virginia team, Allen for the GOP and Warner for the Dems... both are now out of the running).
It's possible there could be other surprises. Republicans want to believe that Conrad Burns is coming back in Montana. Some also believe an upset is possible in Maryland with Michael Steele running a very solid campaign. Both races are close enough that surprises are possible, but not likely.
On the other hand, many Democrats have been pulling for Harold Ford, Jr in Tennessee. That race seems to be slipping away from Ford at the moment, but in a volatile environment, it can't be written off entirely.
But, the most likely scenario is that control of the Senate will ultimately be determined on the ground in Virginia and Missouri. Jim Talent, the Missouri incumbent, won his seat in a race where nearly two million votes were cast. Had 10,000 people changed their vote, he would have lost.
If this was a true sports event, the TV schedule would have been arranged so that all the other states reported first with Missouri and Virginia brought in at the end. But, while politics and elections provide endless fodder for cable networks, the schedule is likely to give us the big news fairly early in the evening. Virginia is one of the first states to wrap up voting and that will tell us a lot about the Senate. If George Allen survives, his party may too.
October Surprise?: Many Democrats have been enjoying the election poll results this year while at the same time fearing an "October Surprise" that could take away their good fortune. It is possible that one October surprise came yesterday--and not from Karl Rove.
New Jersey's State Supreme Court ruled yesterday that committed same-sex couples must be granted the same legal rights as married couples. The Court gave the state legislature 180-days to come up with a solution. Some state legislators are now introducing same-sex marriage legislation while another is seeking to impeach the Justices for inserting their own opinions rather than interpreting the law.
Obviously, same-sex marriage is not going to replace the War in Iraq as the top issue of Election 2006. It's not going to swing a solid Democratic year to a GOP celebration. But, it could influence key races and boost the GOP hopes of retaining control in Congress.
In Tennessee, a state where Republican Bob Corker has struggled to motivate his base, 80% of voters believe marriage should be defined only in terms of a man and a woman. In Montana, another state with a troubled GOP incumbent, the traditional definition of marriage is favored by a 65% to 29% margin. (see state-by-state numbers). Even in New Jersey, one of the most reliably Democratic states, most voters (52%) favor defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Nationally, the issue of same-sex marriage divides pro-choice voters. Larry Sabato summed up the potential impact by saying "The state high court's decision to mandate the legislature to pass full legal rights to New Jersey's same-sex couples could not have come at a worse time for Democrats all across the country."
Two Weeks Left: Three states seem destined to determine which party will control the U.S. Senate next year--Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia.
With two weeks left until Election Day, the news is a bit less bleak for the GOP than it was when the month began. Still, barring a significant change in the landscape, it's likely that four GOP incumbents will lose their job on November 7. This list includes Santorum in Pennsylvania, Burns in Montana, DeWine in Ohio, and Chafee in Rhode Island. All four have consistently trailed their challengers in the polls.
To win control of the Senate, Democrats need to win two of the other three seats still in play.
Democrats had a seat of their own to worry about in New Jersey. But, the Garden State's Blue State tendencies appear to be dragging Senator Bob Menendez towards a modest victory. Still not safe enough to declare that it's over... but it's certainly getting late.
Where We Stand Today: On the first Saturday in October, there's just over 4 weeks until Election Day. For Republicans, the only good news at the moment is that there's still four weeks to go.
If the election were held today, Democrats would probably win control of the Senate. Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania, Montana, Rhode Island, and Ohio appear headed for defeat. Harold Ford (D) is surprisingly ahead in Tennessee, having run a very good campaign to date and the GOP chances of capturing New Jersey (D) appear less likely.
That would get the Democrats a net gain of five seats and leave control of the Senate up to voters in Missouri. The Senate race there between incumbent Jim Talent (R) and challenger Claire McCaskill (D) is too close to call with McCaskill holding a 1-3 point lead in our recent polls.
But, this outcome is far from assured. The key states to watch are Tennessee and Missouri. In Tennessee, Republican Bob Corker brought in a new campaign team last week to see if he can turn things around. This is a state that most analysts thought would be safely in the GOP column by now and the underlying demographics suggest a comeback is quite possible.
In Missouri, the closing month of campaigning could finally push this race in one direction or the other. If it stays close, the Republicans' ground game might determine the outcome.
What's Going on in New Jersey? I'll begin with a confession. All year I have downplayed reports of a possible victory by Republican Tom Kean, Jr. in New Jersey's Senate race. I live in the Garden State and could give all kinds of reasons that Kean's early poll numbers would not hold up--the state is too Democratic, the early polls reflect confusion of the challenger with his father, the national mood will undermine even a solid GOP challenge, the undecideds will eventually move to the D.
Bottom line--I was sure that the early polling would give way to a modest lead for the Democratic incumbent by mid-September. Well, mid-September is here and Menendez has not pulled ahead. Our latest poll shows Kean by five. Other public polls show a similar result.
Now, instead of talk about how Menendez will certainly pull ahead, the talk is whether the Democrats in the state will pull another last minute switch as they did in 2002 (in that year, Torricelli was getting hammered in the polls and was replaced on the ballot by Frank Lautenberg--Lautenberg won handily). In fact, Republicans in the state legislature are trying to get legislation passed to prevent such a switch from happening at the last minute. At the very least, they hope to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to vote on the question.
Why is the happening? I don't know but it may be a cumulative impact. For starters, Menendez is an appointed incumbent. Appointees don't have as good an electoral track record as incumbents who were previously elected. That could normally be overcome in a state like New Jersey.
However, corruption charges have dogged the Menendez campaign. Add to that the fact that the Kean name is commonly associated with clean politics and good government thanks to the current candidate's father. One of the charges against Menendez is easy to understand--he rented a building to a federal agency for hundreds of thousands of dollars after lobbying for that agency's funding. A U.S. Attorney is now investigating the issue.
Also, Menendez is not helped by the arrival of a new book by former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. The reviews and headlines have focused on McGreevey's relationship with another man ... and charges by that man that the relationship was harassment.
Is all this enough for New Jersey voters to elect a Republican to the United States Senate? Maybe, maybe not. But, it is now certainly within the realm of possibility.
Momentum to the Democrats?: On Monday, September 18, Rasmussen Reports will release results from Rhode Island, Ohio, and Montana on our public site. In our Senate Balance of Power summary, all three states will shift from "Toss-Up" to "Leans Democrat." Our new total will show Republicans 49 Democrats 48 and three races in the Toss-Up category (New Jersey, Missouri, and Tennessee). Just over a week ago, the GOP had a 50-45 advantage.
This is the first time that we have reclassified more than a single race on any one day. It's also the best showing for the Democrats since we launched this summary. Still, the basic dynamics remain unchanged--the Democrats need to sweep the Toss-Up races to gain control of the Senate. But, that is less of challenge when the number of Toss-Ups has fallen from six to three.
Also, it should be noted that the Democrats total of 48 Senate seats includes seven that are Leaners. Just 41 are safely in the Democratic column. Among the GOP's 49 seats, just one is categorized as a Leaner (Virginia).
In addition to shifting three states from Toss-Up to Leans Democrat, Rasmussen Reports data shows that the bounce in the President's Job Approval appears to have ended. Sunday's rating is back to 41%... that's exactly where it was before the President's 9/11 speech.
Also, 41% now believe the U.S. and its allies are winning the War on Terror. That's unchanged since before the events commemorating the fifth anniversary of that devastating terrorist attack.
It's worth noting the correlation between those last two figures. On Election Day 2004, the President's Job Approval was at 51%. The number saying the U.S. and its allies were winning the War on Terror was 51%. And, finally, the President received just under 51% of the vote.
All in all, these numbers suggest that if there was any momentum during the first full week of the fall campaign season, it was headed in the Democrats direction.
Political Gravity in 2006: In recent days, new polling has shifted two states (New Jersey and Rhode Island) from Leans Democrat to Toss-Up status in our Senate Balance of Power ratings. In the preceding weeks, we shifted three states from Democrat to Leans Democrat. Only one change (Virginia) went in the opposite direction and that was the result of Senator George Allen's self-inflicted problems.
Five out of six changes have moved to less favorable ratings for the Democrats.
Does this mean that the political winds are shifting in the GOP direction? Probably not.
At one level, these changes are nothing more than what we'd expect at this time of year. As the campaign season begins in earnest it is quite normal for many races to get a bit closer. Sure, if you're Rick Santorum you'd rather be down by single digits rather than double digits, but it's still bad news for an incumbent to be trailing badly on Labor Day.
In fact, no matter how you look at it, the GOP is playing defense this season. Of the five states in our Toss-Up category, four represent seats currently held by Republican Senators (Montana, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island). Also, Pennsylvania Senator Santorum is the only incumbent in either party currently trailing in our assessment of the races.
What the data suggests, then, is that the GOP defense may be tightening a bit. If all goes as Republican strategists hope, the defense will follow the best traditions of the National Football League and bend but not break. That's the most likely scenario in the current environment and would mean that Republicans lose seats in the Senate but the Democrats remain in minority status.
You know the caveats. It's early. There's plenty of time for the overall political climate to change or for the dynamics of individual races to change. All that is true, but we may have reached the point where the laws of political gravity take over.
In 2004, these laws were best demonstrated in Oklahoma by Tom Coburn. In our Oklahoma poll conducted right after Labor Day that year, Coburn trailed badly. He was not embraced by his own party. In fact, just 62% of Bush supporters were prepared to vote for Coburn at that time. However, the closer we got to Election Day, the more GOP voters came home. While they may not have been thrilled with the candidate, they wanted more Republicans in the Senate. In the end, Senator Coburn was elected simply because the pull of political gravity was flowing in his direction.
How will the laws of political gravity work in the most competitive races for 2006? Overall, advantage Democrats.
State political leanings strongly favor Democrats in Rhode Island and New Jersey. Pennsylvania will also be tugged in that direction, but the tug won't be as strong as in the first two states.
Montana is the only currently competitive state where political gravity will pull solidly in the opposite direction. The state's Republican leanings may help Senator Burns who certainly needs all the help he can get.
The final two states--Missouri and Ohio--probably will not see much gravitational pull. Missouri might have a very slight lean to the Republican side of the aisle. But, the national political environment might cancel it out.
That leaves Ohio which would normally have a slight Republican pull. But not this year. Things are so bad for Republicans in the Buckeye State that the GOP Governor considers it good news when his Job Approval reaches 20%.
It's going to be an interesting couple of months. To keep posted, see our summary of 2006 Senate Races
Election 2006: With Labor Day upon us, it's time for the final lap of Election 2006... the time when people who aren't political junkies join the discussion and determine the outcome. As we approach fall campaign season, one trend is clear... the competition is getting tighter.
Since we launched our Senate Balance of Power ratings a few weeks ago, Rasmussen Reports has issued five changes (only three have been released to the public thus far). All five have been towards a tighter race.
One change has been from "Republican" to "Leans Republican" (Virginia). One has been from "Leans Democrat" to "Toss-Up" (New Jersey). The others have been from "Democrat" to "Leans Democrat" (Washington, Minnesota, Pennsylvania).
In addition to getting tighter, the state of play continues to show likely gains for the Democrats. Five Republican incumbents are in races listed as Toss-Up or Leans Democrat (Santorum, Chafee, Burns, Talent, DeWine). The only Democrat not leading is New Jersey's appointed incumbent, Robert Menendez).
When all is said and done, control of the Senate may come down to a state or two like Missouri. A state where incumbent Senator Jim Talent (R) won his job four years ago in a special election by a 50% to 49% margin. Had 11,000 voters changed their vote, the outcome would have changed. In Election 2006, Missouri has remained the most competitive of all races, with Talent and McCaskill staying consistently within a few points of each other.
Put it all together and it becomes clear that a handful of votes in a couple of states are likely to determine whether Election 2006 is a year of modest gains for Democrats or a year when they gain control of Congress.