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The Generic Ballot Bomb

April 30, 2012


At this point in a presidential election year, Americans are inundated with polls. Often these polls provide no real information at all, except the bias and the population samples of the polling organization.

As one example, consider this polling data released for April 16 showing the matchup between Obama and Romney. Depending upon the polling organization, Romney leads Obama by 2 (Gallup), trails Obama by 9 (CNN/Opinion Research), trails Obama by 4 (Reuters/Ipsos), or leads Obama by 3 (Rasmussen).

Presidential match-up polls are notoriously unpredictable six months before an election. Will the recent scandal involving Secret Service agents and prostitutes -- some perhaps even underage prostitutes -- during the president's visit to Colombia suppress his approval for a few weeks? Probably, but that is highly unlikely to swing a presidential election. Moreover, it is almost certain not to have much effect on the other races in 2012 -- Senate races, House races, six governorships, and thousands of state legislative seats.

There is, however, a poll which does show the partisan leaning of America: the generic congressional ballot. When a voter goes to the polls in November, a "generic" favoring of one party over another will often be the decisive factor in casting a ballot. Indeed, the huge sweep of Republicans up and down the ballot in 2010 can only be explained by this massive and generic rejection of Democrats. So this poll is as close to a straightforward question about which political party a respondent will support in the next election as any question asked in polls.

What does the generic congressional ballot say about 2012? Rasmussen asks likely voters which party the respondent intends to support in the next congressional election each week and announces the results every Monday. Over the last three years, likely voters in this poll have favored Republicans over Democrats almost every single week. At this time last year, the Republican edge was 42% to 40%. One week, in November, the parties tied at 41% to 41%, and one week, at the end of January, Democrats held a one-point 41%-to-40% advantage. Since March, however, the Republican advantage has been growing -- the practical end of the Republican fighting for the nomination is a logical explanation for the change -- and since the beginning of March, the Republican advantage per week has progressed thus: +3%, +6%, +4%, +5%, +6%, +5%, +10%.

The trend of other generic congressional ballot polls is the same. Ipsos, which asks "all voters," rather than "likely voters" -- a polling population which favors Democrats -- shows this trend in its last seven polls, dating back to October 2011: -8%, -5%, -6%, -4%, -2%, -4%, -1%. Quinnipiac has asked this question three times since last October, and the trend for Republicans is -8%, -4%, +2%. USA Today/Gallup asked this question twice in the last six months, with the trend being -7%, -2%, and tie. So the trend in all the polls since last August has been a steady movement of voters away from the "generic" Democrat to the "generic" Republican.

Rasmussen, which asks the same question every week and which asks "likely voters," ought to be taken seriously. A ten-percent advantage in the generic ballot, if carried over into other races, would mean a Republican landslide in November. This would mean not just that Romney defeats Obama, but that Republicans win a slew of Senate races that are undecided now (Human Events, for example, is showing that Republicans have an excellent chance of defeating Senator Manchin in West Virginia). The new congressional districts will have an inherent volatility, and a Republican wave could mean that Republicans might actually increase their majority in the House.

The real story, though, may be in state elections. As we have learned since 2010, stout-hearted and conservative Republicans in state government, like Walker in Wisconsin and Brewer in Arizona, if supported by Republican state legislatures, can move our agenda forward on many fronts. Going into 2012, Republicans completely control 22 state governments (counting "nonpartisan" Nebraska's legislature as Republican), while Democrats control only 11 state governments. It is easy to see several states -- Alaska, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina -- falling under Republican control. Nevada and Washington could also, in a strong Republican year, be Republican states. Additionally, Arkansas and Illinois could shift from a Democrat-controlled state to a split-control state.

A conservative political revolution with beginnings as much in the fifty states as in a Republican-controlled federal government would be an irresistible force. Already Republicans in states have ended the mandatory deduction of union dues, passed voter ID laws, enacted laws to enforce existing immigration law, tackled the public school mafia, and passed laws to curtail or end abortion on demand.

The "perfect storm" for conservatives would be a federal government, supported by a Supreme Court, which respects the Constitution and devolves most policy issues back to the states, with robust conservatives in state government enacting an agenda which shows the leftist parts of America the benefits of lower taxes and regulations, tort reform, wholesome social values, and true reform of public and college education. Could this happen? If the generic congressional ballot trend continues, it almost certainly will happen.

Copyright ©2012 Bruce Walker

 


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