Republicans have bristled at months of accusations by progressive Democrats that the GOP appeals only to white, older, Southern voters. Conservatives see the polling data pointing to a Republican wave election and the spontaneous Tea Party movement as validation that their party is back from its (short-lived) exile into the political wilderness. However, a new WSJ / NBC poll provides evidence to support Congressional Democrats’ and Progressive’s conclusion that the Republican brand has a long way to go before it can again become a viable national party.
The poll shows that voters have a negative, albeit generic, opinion of the Republican Party by 46 percent. Only 24 percent of respondents have a “very” or “somewhat positive” opinion of the GOP. This is the worst opinion rating that the Republican’s have received in the 21-year history of this poll. To be fair, the poll includes 42 self-identified Democrats to 35 self-indentified Republicans with 21 independent or unsure voters.
Further aggravating Republicans who attest that their party has broad, national appeal is the WSJ/NBC poll’s evidence to the contrary. In the Northeast, Democrats have a 55 to 31 percent advantage. In the Midwest it is a 49 to 38 percent gap and in the West it is a narrower 44 to 43 percent gap. These are paradigm-altering findings; the generic ballot question, that is voter’s non-specific preference for either party’s nameless candidate, has favored Republicans reliably since June.
This is not to understate the significance of this poll, and it will surely serve to validate the Democratic Party’s current strategy of linking the crop of GOP challengers and incumbents in 2010 to the reinstatement of the Bush Administration. It is hard to get less popular than the Bush Administration (unless you are Nancy Pelosi [7 point approval] or Harry Reid [2 point approval], according to WSJ/NBC)
The poll, however, contains some trends that run counter to most other polls asking the same questions within a similar time frame. In August, 2010, the poll finds that President Obama generates equal “very positive” and “very negative” views from respondents (at 27 percent each). While the “very positive” rating is consistent with other polls, the very negative view is inconsistant with Gallup and Rasmussen Reports, which have been tracking disapproval ratings in the 40 point range, with few exceptions, for weeks.
The WSJ/NBC also found that 44 percent of respondents approve of the president’s handling of the Afghanistan war to 45 percent that disapprove. This bucks a trend line that has been building for a number of months; an August 2nd Gallup / USA Today poll found that only 36 percent of respondents approve of President Obama’s Afghan war policy.
This is not the first controversial poll to make news this week. A poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a firm affiliated with Fox News contributor Karl Rove and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, found that the GOP candidates are doing an average of 8 points better than Democratic candidates in 13 battle ground races.
Both polls findings are widely divergent and extremely significant. Partisan observers from either party are likely to value the poll that is more supportive of their most desired outcome in November. However, it would be foolish to dismiss the findings of either poll dues to the affiliation of their respective sponsors. Republicans should take WSJ’s findings to heart, and they likely will. Similarly, Democrats will be dismissive of the Public Opinion Strategies poll at their own peril.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org