New NBC/WSJ poll should worry Dems

Obama's numbers and Dems' generic congressional ballot both drop

Published December 17, 2009 3:04PM (EST)

There's a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out. The numbers are grim for Democrats and Barack Obama, but more to the point, the country continues to express a general and very real disgust.

Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg of NBC's First Read summarize the major findings this way:

In the poll, Obama's approval has dropped below 50% (to 47%); his party faces its first net-negative fav/unfav since Sept. 2007; and one-third think he has the right goals and priorities to fix the economy....

In the poll, 55% think the country is on the wrong track; 61% believe the country is in a state of decline; and a whopping 81% believe the past year in Congress has been marked by division and a lack of willingness to compromise. (Compare that with the 52% who thought, immediately after Obama’s presidential victory, that unity would prevail in 2009.) What’s more, Sarah Palin’s fav/unfav is 32%-40%, up a tick since her book tour. And the Republican Party’s fav/unfav is 28%-43%. Indeed, the anti-Washington sentiment is so strong that the conservative, libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement has a net-positive fav/unfav, 41%-23%. Populism is alive and well, folks. And it’s up for grabs. Washington-establishment types watch out: 2010 could be the year of the outsider and turn into the THIRD-STRAIGHT change election cycle, an unprecedented level of political volatility in this country.

Looking ahead to next year’s midterms, Democrats enjoy only a two-point advantage on the generic ballot, 43%-41%, which is their smallest edge on this question since 2004. In addition, unlike was the case during the 2008 election season, Democrats are now the ones facing an enthusiasm gap. According to the poll, 56% of Republicans said they were “very interested” in next year’s midterms, compared with 46% of Democrats who said that.... Moreover, when you look at the generic-ballot score among high-interest voters, Republicans have an eight-point advantage, 47%-39%.

Yesterday, the House narrowly passed, 217-212, a $174B jobs bill, just hours after raising the national debt ceiling (another) $300B. Not a single Republican voted for it, and 38 Democrats (including, obviously, a lot of Blue Dogs) voted "nay" along with the Republicans.

Of its passage, Obama said:

All over our country this holiday season, Americans who lost their jobs in the Great Recession are looking for work. Today the House answered with some productive ideas to respond to this great need, offering new initiatives including repairing our roads and bridges, providing relief to Americans who have lost their jobs and preventing layoffs at the state and local level. They complement the proposals I made last week to buttress small businesses with new tax cuts and increased lending and provide incentives to consumers who retrofit their homes. Some may think standing by and taking no action is the right approach, but for the millions of Americans still out of work, inaction is unacceptable.

The post-healthcare reform stage of this presidency will be defined by three words: jobs, jobs, jobs. To the degree Obama and the Democrats make the stimulus and jobs bill monies work, the stark NBC/WSJ poll numbers will fade; to the degree matters in the "Great Recession" do not, those numbers will probably worsen.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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