As voters head to the polls, conventional wisdom is that Republicans will make major gains in federal, state and local races this November. This outcome was not projected in the spring of 2009 when Resurgent Republic conducted its first national survey. At that time, we found early indicators in the national electorate that Democrats’ political goodwill among Independents was in jeopardy and that if this trend continued Republicans had the potential to do far better in 2010 than the previous two elections.
Yet the mid-term elections were nearly 20 months away, and more than 60 percent of voters still approved of President Obama’s job performance. Presented with an opportunity to win Independents back, Democrats sought to convince these voters that more intervention by the Federal Government was needed. More government spending to jump-start the economy. More government control of health care to reign in rising costs. More government regulation of energy to help the environment. More tax revenue to pay down the debt. As a result, President Obama and congressional Democrats pursued policies that exacerbated Independents’ worries instead of easing them.
From early in 2009 until today, the agenda from those who control Washington has clashed with how voters define the proper role of government. In April 2009 voters preferred a “smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes” instead of a “larger government with more services and higher taxes” by 69 to 21 percent. In the same survey, Independents believed by a 55-to-40 percent margin that the “government is trying to do more things than it can do well” compared to the “governmentshould do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people.” One year later, the margin of Independents who believed the government is doing too many things widened to 61 to 36 percent.
Voter disapproval of President Obama’s fiscal policies – and the record level of spending and deficits and debt that followed – was an early warning that the national electorate was shifting. A majority of all voters (51 percent) and Independents (56 percent) opposed the $3.6 trillion price-tag of President Obama’s first budget and the $1.4 trillion deficit left in its wake. Even in the context of an economic recession and collapse of the financial markets, 51 percent of voters believed President Obama’s budget “spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much.” By greater than two-to-one, more Independents strongly agreed with this sentiment than those who strongly supported President Obama’s budget.
On job creation, Independents grew increasingly skeptical throughout this election cycle that government spending leads to a lasting recovery. In April 2009 Independents believed “the federal government is squandering money on pork-barrel projects, bailouts, and big spending programs that create few private sector jobs” by 53 to 40 percent. One year later, Independents believed the economic stimulus package failed to “protect or create millions of jobs in both the public and private sector” by 61 to 26 percent. In addition, 63 percent of Independents said the federal government should spend less to reduce the budget deficit.
When voters said the economy and unemployment was the most important issue facing the nation, President Obama and congressional Democrats spent more than one year debating health care reform legislation which voters believe does more to increase coverage than control costs. In June of last year, a plurality of voters said the top priority of health care reform should be controlling costs (44 percent). Also voters did not support increasing taxes to provide universal coverage (52 to 39 percent) and rejected a health care system where most Americans receive coverage from the Federal Government rather than a private insurance company (60 to 31 percent).
So it is not surprising that in June after health care reform became law, voters believed the new law would increase insurance premiums (60 percent), health care costs (61 percent), the federal deficit (70 percent), and taxes (73 percent), and decrease the quality of care (44 percent). Only 1 in 5 voters said the new law increases the quality of care. And when voters were asked what should happen next, they preferred Congressman B’s message which is more in line with their top priority of controlling costs, 53 to 41 percent:
Congressman A says we should not repeal the Obama health care reform law. Repeal would leave 30 million Americans without coverage, and would let insurance companies go back to canceling policies when you get sick and denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition. We should stand up to the insurance companies, not give in to them.
Congressman B says we should repeal the Obama health care reform law, and replace it with a system that lowers costs, allows people to keep the coverage they have now, and give individuals the same tax breaks businesses get to provide health care insurance. Obama’s law will drive health care costs through the roof and bankrupt the country.
Voters’ disapproval of an increasingly activist government has been clear, but they also expressed concern over what Congress failed to do leading up to the mid-term elections: stop or delay the tax increases scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2011. The majority in Congress also postponed voting on controversial bills, such as cap-and-trade and card check legislation, and pledged to re-visit these items in a lame duck session of Congress. Failing to act on these items prior to Election Day intensified the political headwinds. In a dozen battleground Senate states,voters were less likely to support a Democrat for House or Senate if Congress failed to stop or delay the scheduled tax increases (55 percent) or if Congress waited to pass controversial legislation in a lame duck session (60 percent).
Voters head to the polls next week upset about the direction of the country and at odds with how the Obama Administration and Democrats who control Congress define the proper role of government. Those who control Washington today lost the opportunity to restore their goodwill among Independents by doubling-down on a more government agenda that swing voters perceive as reckless and burdensome to future generations. These policy decisions made it more likely that Independents will align with Republicans on Election Day. And those who believe that other factors such as campaign finance or voter turnout will drive the results have forgotten the decisive outcomes in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.