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First thoughts: The more things change

Our new NBC/WSJ poll finds that the more things change, the more they stay the same… Obama approval at 50%... GOP maintains enthusiasm advantage… 60% back offshore drilling… 64% favor Arizona's immigration law… GOP is now winning key demographic groups it was losing in 2006, but it has MAJOR problems with Latinos… Obama has a brand that's entirely separate from congressional Democrats… A VERY dissatisfied public, and the public is taking it out on incumbents… And Obama to speak on the economy in Buffalo, NY at 1:50 pm ET.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The more things change…: We know the political landscape can change in the blink of an eye, as it did after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. But what's fascinating about our new NBC/WSJ poll is how little has changed politically, despite all that has taken place since our last poll -- the oil spill, the failed Times Square bombing, the Dow's plunge (then rebound), the crisis in Greece, the 290,000 jobs in April, and the signing of health care into law. In our poll, Obama's approval sits at 50% (where it has been, minus a point or two, since August '09); the GOP maintains its enthusiasm edge heading into the midterms; both Dems and the GOP have net-negative fav/unfavs; and the public is still very pessimistic about the economy (76% believe we're still in a recession).

*** Still, some surprising results: While the macro-politics has remained relatively stable, our poll still has some striking -- and rather surprising -- results. First, despite all the attention the oil spill has received, 60% support offshore drilling and 53% believe drilling's economic benefits outweigh its environmental risks. Second, nearly two-thirds of the public (64%) back Arizona's immigration law, as another two-thirds (66%) believe it will lead to the discrimination of Latino immigrants who are in the country legally. Third, a majority of Americans (52%) say they are willing to give up personal freedoms and civil liberties to prevent another terrorist attack, and another majority (51%) approve of using racial or ethnic profiling to combat terrorism. And fourth, and perhaps most surprisingly, General Motors scores better on our feeling thermometer (37%-27% fav/unfav) than the Democratic Party (37%-42%) or the Republican Party (30%-42%) do. Ed Whitacre -- the 21st century version of Lee Iacocca? His TV ads for GM, talking straight to camera, acknowledging past GM transgressions, might provide an interesting lesson for Washington politicians currently on the electoral ropes.

*** The GOP's good news, bad news: The poll is mostly good news for the Republican Party -- at least as it relates to the upcoming midterms. It shows that the GOP is now winning key demographic groups (blue-collar voters, independents, white women, suburban women, and seniors) that it was losing in 2006. Also, the number believing that the nation is on the wrong track (56%) looks a lot more like 1994 (when the party in power lost control of Congress) than it does 1998 or 2002 (when the president's party fared historically well in the midterms). But in the long term, there are dangerous signs for the GOP. First, the party continues to have a net-negative fav/unfav (which wasn't the case in '94). And second, it has a MAJOR problem with the country's fastest growing demographic group: Latinos. In the poll, Democrats have a 37-point advantage among Latinos when it comes to which party does a better job of protecting minorities, a 42-point edge in protecting immigrants against discrimination, and a 28-point advantage on the issue of immigration.

*** Obama vs. the Dem party: Here's another striking finding from our NBC/WSJ poll: Obama and congressional Democrats have two completely different brands right now. For instance, by a 51%-36% margin, the public thinks that Obama is more concerned about the interests of average Americans than of large corporations when it comes to dealing with financial markets. But congressional Dems' score here is essentially reversed -- 53% think they're more concerned about protecting the interests of large corporations, while just 35% believe they're looking out for average Americans. (Congressional Republicans' score is even worse: 71% for corporations, 20% for average Americans.) Here's something else: Obama is more helpful in rallying the GOP base (64% of Republican voters say they're voting GOP to OPPOSE Obama and Dem candidates) than he is his own base (49% of Dem voters say they're voting to SUPPORT Obama and Dem candidates). Translation: Obama's presence on the campaign trail might solidify the GOP base without guaranteeing the same lift to Democrats.

*** A dissatisfied public: Our last takeaway from the poll is just how pessimistic the American public is right now. Consider these numbers:
-- 75% don't trust Washington to do what is right most of the time;
-- 83% believe the two-party system has real problems or is seriously broken;
-- 81% are dissatisfied with the economy;
-- 72% disapprove of the job Congress is doing; and
-- 56% believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.
This is an angry public -- despite the fact that there's plenty of DATA (the Dow, GDP, monthly job numbers) suggesting the country is much better off than it was a year or two ago; the perception is another story.

*** Not a good time to be an incumbent: Given this dissatisfaction, it's not too surprising that the public is taking out its anger on incumbents. Since 1946, House incumbents have, on average, won re-election 92% of the time. That average is lower in the Senate, but still pretty high -- 79%. But "incumbent" is a dirty word this year. The losses by longtime members of Congress -- Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia -- have sent shockwaves across the country. And the Cook Political Report's David Wasserman sends along this gem: In 2008, there were only 24 incumbent House candidates who won less than 70% in primaries. Four of them lost -- Wynn, Gilchrest, Cannon, David Davis. So far in 2010, there have been only seven states to hold primaries, and already 16 incumbents have won less than 70% of the vote, including one loser -- Mollohan. There are a good chunk of primary voters IN BOTH PARTIES, going into the voting booth and just voting against the incumbent even if it's for someone they never heard of.

*** Obama off to Buffalo: At 1:50 pm ET, President Obama will deliver remarks on the economy (and then take questions) in Buffalo, NY. Reuters says Obama "will urge Congress to move forward on new job creation measures and pounce on Republicans for 'obstructing efforts to rebuild' the U.S. economy, a White House official said." In the evening, the president will speak at a New York City fundraiser benefiting the DCCC before returning to the White House.

*** Super Senate Tuesday: Yesterday we asked this question: Who would be the Democrats' better general election candidate against Pat Toomey -- Arlen Specter or Joe Sestak? Well, Quinnipiac asks that question, and here are the results: Sestak trails Toomey by two points in a hypothetical match-up (42%-40%), while Specter trails Toomey by seven points (47%-40%).
 
*** More midterm news: In Iowa, Joe Biden will campaign for vulnerable Gov. Chet Culver (D) on May 18, CQ reports… And in South Carolina, Mark Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny, is campaigning on Friday for gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, the AP says. 

Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 5 days
Countdown to HI special election: 9 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 173 days

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