A Dozen Ways of Looking at an Election


When Ann Selzer, who presciently called Barack Obama's victory in Iowa, does a poll of likely voters for Bloomberg, I'm going to read it as closely as I can. And boy, do her results paint a Jackson Pollock picture of the electorate.

So Barack Obama's unpopular, and he's dragging down Democrats in key states. But not really: he's in the high 40s in terms of approval and in the low 50s in terms of favorable impressions. A majority of Americans admit to having supported Obama at some point since 2007, and while only 3 percent say they are disappointed enough not to vote for him again, 40 percent of his supporters are less fervent than before:

31 Yes, I still support him as much as I ever did

10 Yes, I still support him but not as much as before

9 Yes, some days I support him, some days I don't

3 Yes, he disappointed me and I no longer support him

1 Yes, I am angry and now actively oppose him

A tiny majority of Americans think the economy will get better under Republicans, even though they endorse specific policies that Democrats propose: more than 60 percent favor letting the tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire while preserving tax cuts for the middle class, for example.

A narrow plurality of Americans want health care repealed, but they object principally to only certain parts of it, like the mandate requiring everyone to get insurance and the provision that taxes companies above a certain size that don't provide for their employees' health care.

But Americans are about evenly split in their ballot preferences for Congress. They seem to know that big businesses and corporations would benefit from Republicans being in control, and while more (46 to 40 percent) think the middle class would do better under a Republican-controlled Congress, the number of people who don't know the answer to that question jumps to 12 percent, meaning that at least 52 percent of the country isn't sure what a Republican Congress would mean for average Americans. The number is above 50 percent of likely voters for the same question with unemployment and the deficit as predicates.

However, only 29 percent of Americans buy the main Democratic campaign argument that they personally would do worse under a Republican administration. An additional 27 percent of likely voters don't know if this would be the case. Adding these two numbers together brings you back up to 56 percent of likely voters who aren't sold yet on Republicans.

The upshot: a lot of people might vote Republican to send a message, not to endorse policies. There seems to be a core of about 10 to 16 percent of the electorate that is biding its time and waiting ... not thrilled about Republicans, certainly, but very angry at Washington, compelled to vote, and having no choice but to ink in the ballot for the party that isn't in power.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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