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First thoughts: Introducing the Voter Confidence Index

Introducing our Voter Confidence Index… It currently shows Obama with a -38 score… That’s eight points WORSE than where Clinton and the Dems stood in ’94 (when they lost 54 House seats)… It’s 17 points BETTER than where George W. Bush and the GOP stood in ’06 (when they lost 30 seats)… And it’s three points WORSE than where Reagan and the GOP stood in ’82 (when they lost 26 seats)… Bottom line: The current political environment is bad for Democrats, and it forecasts significant losses in November… Elsewhere: Cuomo goes on the attack… Boxer up by six in new Field Poll… Heads up: Our Field of 64 House seats to be released later today… Profiling PA-10… And Castle is planning to a poll to gauge how he’d fare as a write-in candidate.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Introducing the Voter Confidence Index (VCI): How do you measure the current political environment and what it means for the November elections -- with just one number? And how do you compare it with past cycles? Well, your First Read authors and MSNBC.com have tried by creating what we’re calling the Voter Confidence Index. For this index, we’re using a combination of three questions commonly asked in national polls -- the president’s job approval rating, the direction of the country, and the generic congressional ballot. Bottom line: A positive (+) VCI is good for the president’s party; a negative (-) one is bad. And the worse the number, GENERALLY the worse the president's party performs in the midterms.

*** So what does the VCI currently tell us? It shows President Obama and the Democratic Party on the negative side, with a -38 VCI average for the month of September. That’s eight points worse than where President Clinton and the Democrats stood in 1994 (when Democrats lost House 54 seats). It’s 17 points better than where George W. Bush and Republicans stood in 2006 (when Republicans lost 30 seats). It’s three points worse than where Ronald Reagan and the GOP were in 1982 (when Republicans lost 26 House seats and when unemployment was at 10%, like it nearly is today). What’s more, today’s VCI is starkly different from when Obama’s presidency began. In May of 2009, the VCI was +41. The index’s steady drop tracks with the controversial debate over health care, the Gulf oil spill, and general uncertainty about the economy. We will continue to track the VCI from now until the election, and this one number will allow you to see movement faster than trying to track all three questions on any given day. We've been kicking the tires on this for months looking for a loophole, but haven't found it yet. Nothing is perfect in projecting an actual House seat gain or loss, but this will put you on sounder footing when coming up with your ranges. For the full interactive chart and data, click here.

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*** Which polls did we use? There are many polls out there, and there’s plenty of disagreement in the statistical community about what constitutes a good poll or a bad poll. The NBC News standard is to generally use polls that are done with live callers, not ones that are automated. For the VCI, we chose to use the best-known and most-often conducted live-caller national polls: NBC News/Wall Street Journal, ABC News/Washington Post, CBS News/New York Times, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, CNN/Opinion Research, Pew Research, USA Today/Gallup, Ipsos (including AP, Reuters, McClatchy), AP/GFK, Bloomberg/Selzer, and Newsweek. We computed our VCI by taking the average from all of these polls. For the VCI scores for past presidents dating back to Gerald Ford, our NBC/WSJ pollsters went back and calculated the national averages. Here’s the full explainer on how we calculate the VCI.

*** Cuomo goes on the attack: After a new Quinnipiac poll showed him leading by just six points, Andrew Cuomo (D) is up with a new TV ad hitting GOP opponent Carl Paladino (R) in New York's gubernatorial race. The New York Times says the ad criticizes Paladino “for his donations to Albany politicians and for his failure to create jobs after winning tax breaks intended to promote economic development.” Question: Is Cuomo overreacting a bit to one poll? As we pointed out earlier, it appears Quinnipiac’s likely voter model is leaving out lots of Democrats. Indeed, a new Siena poll shows Cuomo with a very large lead.

*** Boxer up by six in new Field Poll: A day after the Field Poll found Jerry Brown (D) and Meg Whitman (R) tied in California’s gubernatorial contest, the poll has Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R) in the Senate race by six points, 47%-41%. Per the Sacramento Bee, "The poll found that impressions of Boxer are sharply divided and highly partisan, with 93 percent of all likely voters having an opinion of her. It found that Boxer still has a high unfavorable rating of 48 percent. But it has declined from a high of 52 percent two months ago. 'She's hanging in,' said Mark DiCamillo, the poll's director. 'It looks like she's had a pretty good month or two.'"

*** Heads up: In lieu of our normal Friday Top 10, later today we’ll be releasing our “Field of 64” list of what we consider the top 64 House seats that might switch parties in November. The list, like the NCAA bracket, can be split up into four buckets. The VERY vulnerable (approximately 16 districts), the potentially VERY vulnerable (the next 16), the majority makers (seats 33-48) and the wave/upset specials (49-64).

*** 75 House races to watch: PA-10: The Democratic nominee is two-term incumbent Chris Carney, who was first elected in 2006. The GOP nominee is former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino. In ’08, McCain won 54% of the vote in the district -- which is in the Northeast part of the state -- and Bush won 60% in ’04. As of June 30, Carney had almost $800,000 in the bank, while Marino had just $11,000. Carney voted against the stimulus and cap-and-trade but for health care. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the contest as a Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: In Delaware, Mike Castle is planning to conduct a poll to see how he would fare as a write-in candidate, Politico writes… In West Virginia, per the Washington Post, the NRSC is up with a seven-figure TV ad buy hitting Dem Senate nominee Joe Manchin.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 39 days

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