Behind the numbers: Hodes trails Ayotte
Democratic operatives are worried at the moment. After a brutal summer of being flogged at tea parties and town halls, the untouchable party of the 2006 and 2008 watershed elections is bleeding. Political scientists and electoral junkies expect the Democrats to lose seats – and have all along. In fact, only twice in the past century has the party of the president not lost seats in its first midterm election. (The most recent example was 2002, just more than a year after the 9/11 attacks.) But the Democrats are worried that they’re more vulnerable than the historical average. And they’re probably right.
Across the board, President Obama and the Democrats possess a declining brand. Per usual, the Republicans are out-maneuvering their rivals. The Democrats are calling foul – and let’s not forget that they have a point. The ridiculousness of death panels, deep Medicare cuts and universal coverage of illegal immigrants is beyond basic conceptions of ethical play. But who cares? Politics is rough-and-tumble, and when you have to explain away myths, you’re losing the PR war. The Republicans know that and use it to their advantage.
Here in New Hampshire, we have a unique opportunity to observe a highly competitive race for U.S. Senate live and in person. Paul Hodes ‘72, the twice-elected Congressman from New Hampshire’s second district, threw his hat into the ring to replace Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican retiring at the end of his term in 2010. Kelly Ayotte, the state’s Attorney General until July when she retired, is presumed to be Hodes’ Republican challenger next November.
A recent poll by the American Research Group puts Ayotte ahead of Hodes by seven points, 41 percent to 34 percent, marginally outside of the poll’s MoE of 4.1 percent. Rasmussen shows similar results, with Ayotte besting Hodes 46 percent to 38 percent.
Looks bad for Hodes (and the Democrats), right? Sort of.
First, the bad news. Hodes, who as a sitting Congressman comfortably won reelection in 2008 ,should be seeing higher numbers – if we control for the current climate, at least. Rasmussen’s internals show Hodes’ net favorability ratings in the gutter, at -4 percent (19 percent very favorable minus 23 percent very unfavorable). Ayotte fares much better at +16 (22 percent very favorable, 6 percent very unfavorable). According to ARG, Ayotte also enjoys a 17-point lead over Hodes among “Independent” voters. Not a great position for Hodes.
But not so fast. Looking closer, we would also see that almost half of independent voters in the ARG survey are still undecided. And in a recent poll by the UNH Survey Center, only 6 percent of respondents had definitely decided for whom they would vote.
Curiously – (sarcasm) – the approval numbers for Hodes closely follow trends in public opinion on the economy. As in the 2008 elections, voters are, perhaps more so now than at any other point in recent memory, voting almost exclusively on macroeconomic perceptions. Only 4 percent of New Hampshire residents think the economy is strong, while 47 percent say it’s “poor. “ And New Hampshire voters are marginally pessimistic about the ability of the government to appropriately respond to the crisis; 51 percent fear the government will go too far in trying to fix the economy.
Across the board, the Democrats are suffering from sociotropic views of the economy. ARG shows that 37 percent of residents disapprove of Governor Lynch’s (D) job performance – the same number who disagree with his handling of the economy. Obama faces a similar fate.
Considering the awful assessment of the economy, and that Governor Lynch’s net approval rating is -3 percent, despite the fact that he won reelection with more than 70 percent of the vote, I’m surprised that Hodes’ numbers aren’t worse.
Granted, optimism because the awful news isn’t as bad as it could be seems a bit feeble. But it’s too early to be too nervous about these polls.
Most voters don’t know for whom they’ll eventually cast a ballot. Neither Hodes nor Ayotte enjoys particularly wide name recognition across the state. Ultimately, I see this race following broader economic trends. If Democrats generally can exonerate their brand and induce some semblance of economic recovery, Hodes will get to play junior Senator. If the economy stays depressed and health care reform gets choked in Congress, Ayotte’s Republican-cum-libertarian message will play well here.
Following Hodes’ campaign should give us a general idea of how worried Democratic operatives should really be about their 2010 chances. I’m hesitantly optimistic.
Current prediction: Probability of Hodes winning at 55 percent. (TOSSUP)