From NBC's Ali Weinberg
While President Obama's and congressional Democrats' declining poll numbers will most definitely impact next year's midterm elections, they probably won't predict what will happen in the 2012 presidential election, a group of leading pollsters and analysts agreed today.
A day after the latest NBC/WSJ poll was released -- showing Obama's job approval rating at 47% -- the survey's Republican pollster Bill McInturff joined Democratic pollster Fred Yang in a discussion about the 2010 electoral landscape. The forum, moderated by National Journal's Amy Walter and Charlie Cook, was filled with predictions dire and optimistic, as well as a few pop culture references.
When asked by Cook to sum up Democrats' 2010 outlook, McInturff cited the words of the political philosopher Mr. T in Rocky III. "Prediction: pain." McInturff also compared the current political atmosphere to that of Oct. 1994, when congressional Republicans rode a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment to overturn 40 years of minority status.
Yang agreed that 2010 will usher a shift against the party in power, as happened fifteen years ago. But he contended that the Republican brand is weaker now than in '94, when Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" offered frustrated voters a tangible alternative to a liberal agenda. "That anger could turn against the Republican Party," Yang said, with conservative Tea Party-backed candidates like Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul challenging Republican incumbents who are viewed as Washington D.C. insiders.
"In 1994, Democrats were the 'suit,'" Yang said, citing slang from the HBO series "Entourage," in which one character is seen as the establishment figure, intent on ruining everyone else's fun. "Now, the 'suit' could be all of us," he said.
When asked whether Tea Party candidates would end up fragmenting the GOP, McInturff responded by touting the dominance of the two-party system. "All other movements are absorbed by one [party] or the other," he said, citing Ross Perot's presidential bid as an example of GOP gains due to an influx of third-party voters. McInturff added that the GOP "ought to be smart enough" to incorporate Tea Party candidates. He cautioned, however, that intra-party disputes should be resolved during the primaries, as an independent Tea Party candidate in the general election would be "a disaster."
Despite his overall optimism for 2010, McInturff also warned that Republican midterm gains would not necessarily augur success in the 2012 presidential race. "There's a sharp segmentation between the temporal and long-term numbers," he said, explaining that while Democrats may be seen as focusing too much on health care reform -- to the detriment of the economy -- presently, they "might get credit in three years for what they're doing now." He added, however, "that leaves a lot of people behind in 2010."
From NBC's Ali Weinberg