WASHINGTON — With the midterm elections less than six weeks away, President Obama and the Democratic Party are suffering from a lack of voter optimism, according to a new Voter Confidence Index created by NBC News and msnbc.com.
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Pessimism about the current direction of the nation, lowered approval of Obama's performance in office and dim views of the Democratic rule in Congress could spell major losses for the party this November -- midterm losses similar to those suffered by other presidents in recent history.
The NBC Political Unit and msnbc.com created the VCI as a way to try and measure the current political environment, what it may signal about this fall's elections – and how it compares with past midterm elections. For the index, we’re using a combination of three questions commonly asked in national polls -- the president’s job approval rating, the direction of the country, and the generic congressional ballot. As a dynamic measurement, the index will change over time as attitudes change.
Bottom line: A positive (+) VCI is good for the president’s party; a negative (-) one is bad. Generally, the lower the number, the worse the president's party performs in the midterms.
History not on Obama's side
Having begun his presidency with high expectations (and a high VCI), fierce fights over federal stimulus spending and health care have combined with a still-struggling economy and a months-long oil spill to erode voter attitudes. Currently, the VCI shows Obama and the Democratic Party in negative territory, with a -38 VCI average for the month of September.
That’s eight points worse than where President Clinton and the Democrats stood in 1994, when Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. Does that mean Democrats are doomed to repeat 1994? Not necessarily. There were mitigating structural factors in 1994, including more Democratic retirements and an environment that seemed to sneak up on longtime incumbents. Neither is the case this year.
Also consider, the current VCI is 17 points better than where George W. Bush and Republicans stood in 2006, when Republicans lost 30 House seats and six in the Senate. And it’s three points worse than where Ronald Reagan and the GOP stood in 1982. But Republicans then lost 26 House seats and when unemployment was at 10 percent, like it nearly is today.
The bottom line is: The current political environment is bad for Democrats, and that forecasts major losses in November.
There are many polls out there, and there’s plenty of disagreement in the statistical community about what constitutes a good poll or a bad poll. The NBC News standard is to generally use polls that are done with live callers, not ones that are automated.
For the VCI, NBC News chose to use the best-known and most-often conducted live-caller national polls: NBC News/Wall Street Journal, ABC News/Washington Post, CBS News/New York Times, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, CNN/Opinion Research, Pew Research, USA Today/Gallup, Ipsos (including AP, Reuters, McClatchy), AP/GFK, Bloomberg/Selzer, and Newsweek.
The VCI is computed by taking the average from all of these polls. For the VCI scores on past presidents dating back to Gerald Ford, our NBC/WSJ pollsters went back and calculated the national averages.
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