Right after the big Republican victory in the midterm elections, my Politics Daily colleague Jill Lawrence wrote an analysis
suggesting a myriad of reasons for caution in interpreting the election outcome as a mandate for the GOP.
As Jill said: "Mandates are complicated things. Just ask Bill Clinton, who thought he'd been elected at least in part to pass a health reform law. Or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was convinced that the country would rejoice in a government shutdown (shockingly, most Americans reacted badly). Or Obama, who campaigned on pretty much the same health plan that he signed into law. Who knew that at least in the short-term it would turn into a polarizing political albatross, not to mention a Mitch McConnell metaphor?"
Or, for that matter, it's useful not to forget the dream of Karl Rove, the political mastermind for former President George W. Bush. After GOP gains in the 2002 midterms and Bush's re-election in 2004, Rove talked about
a grand political realignment like the one that occurred after the election of William McKinley
as president in 1896 and which led to Republican dominance for more than a generation.
A CNN poll conducted in mid-November
found this about the message from the election: 70 percent of those surveyed said the results were a rejection of Democratic rule in the House while 17 percent called it a mandate for Republicans. Eight percent answered "neither" and 5 percent had no opinion.
A new poll released Monday by CNN/Opinion Research
suggested that whatever most motivated voters in the 2010 midterm elections, their views going forward may be less clear-cut.
The survey finds that Americans believe by 55 percent to 42 percent that the policies being proposed by President Obama will move the country in the right direction. But those surveyed said by 51 percent to 44 percent that the policies being proposed by the GOP will take the country in the wrong direction.
When the question is asked about Democrats in general it produces a split with 48 percent each in the right-direction and wrong-direction columns.
(The CNN poll, conducted Dec. 17-19, sampled all adults, so that has to be taken into consideration in measuring it against the election results which, of course, reflected the decisions of those who were motivated enough to vote. That's why, during the campaign, surveys of "likely voters" favored Republicans far more than surveys of all registered voters).
The comparison of Obama and the Republicans roughly squares with a poll conducted Dec. 9-12 by the Washington Post/ABC News
which found 43 percent saying they trusted Obama more than the Republicans to "do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years," while 38 percent put their faith in the Republicans. Twelve percent trusted neither, 2 percent said they trusted both and 4 percent were undecided. The margin of error was 3.5 points.
While a plurality of those surveyed in the Post/ABC poll regarded the GOP takeover of Congress as a good thing, the number wasn't as stunning as the GOP election victory itself. Forty-one percent said having the Republicans take charge was a good thing, 27 percent said it is a bad thing and 30 percent didn't think it makes any difference. Three percent were undecided.
Even on the economy, which was one of the major driving forces of the election, the public had mixed views. Forty-five percent trusted the GOP more when it came to who would do a better job on the issue, compared with 44 percent who prefer Obama, with 2 percent saying they trust both, 7 percent trusting neither and 2 percent undecided.
Obama's overall approval ratings continue to sag and the economy continues to be a dark cloud over his presidency, but a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll
, conducted Dec. 9-13, suggested -- in the words of one of its analysts -- that "Obama might be down . . . but he's far from out -- especially when it comes to his prospects for re-election in 2012." The poll had Obama leading Republican Mitt Romney by 47 percent to 40 percent in a hypothetical 2012 match-up and holding his own against a "generic" Republican opponent, with Obama ahead by 42 percent to 39 percent. Another 10 percent say it depends on who that GOP opponent is. As in most polls, Obama blows away Sarah Palin.
GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the Journal/NBC survey along with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, told MSNBC: "This is a president who retains very strong numbers with a political core constituency. It is really important not to lose track of his retained strength." He was referring to Obama's strong standing among African-Americans (87 percent overall approval), Democrats (76 percent), Latinos (53 percent) and younger voters. McInturff's colleague Hart added, "From my point of view, this poll is anything but a lump of coal in the president's Christmas stocking."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," "The fact that the Republican leader of the Senate would like a Republican president a couple years from now shouldn't be particularly surprising." But what path public opinion takes will depend on what McConnell said in his next sentence: "What the American people are interested in of course is what we're going to do between now and then."
Follow Poll Watch on Twitter
Visit the Poll Watch Home Page and see all the latest polls in one place