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Two Views of the Battleground Poll

The new bipartisan Battleground Poll is out, and while it was taken too early (Feb 12-15) to give us any new information on the political ramifications of the Dubai Ports World deal, it does contain some interesting findings. Here are the topline numbers: Bush job approval 46%, Congressional Job Approval 37%, Generic Congressional Ballot Dems +5 (46% - 41%).

Here is the analysis from the point of view of Republican pollster Ed Goeas:

The bottom line is that the mood of the electorate is not an anti-incumbent mood, an anti- Democratic or anti-Republican mood, but an anti-Washington mood. When asked if voters wanted a member of Congress to possess “strength of values and convictions,” or “willingness to find practical, workable solutions” to the country’s problems, voters wanted to see practical, workable solutions by a twenty-point margin (58% to 38%). That is not, however, what the American electorate feels they are getting from Washington. When these same voters were asked if they felt lawmakers in Washington “put you first,” or “put partisan politics first,” only four percent (4%) felt that lawmakers put them first, and a whopping ninety-two percent (92%) felt lawmakers put partisan politics first. In other words, Washington is broken and needs to be fixed.

One only has to look at the image ratings of the leaders of both parties to see the effect of this cynical view held by voters. The image of both President George W. Bush (45% favorable/53% unfavorable) and Vice President Dick Cheney (42% favorable/51% unfavorable) are net negative. But equally negative are the image ratings of Democratic leaders like Democratic frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (45% favorable/51% unfavorable) and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean (31% favorable/45% unfavorable). Of all the Washington leaders, only Senator John McCain (65% favorable/18% unfavorable) has chiseled out a positive “bi-partisan” image with the American electorate.

Celinda Lake analyzes the number from the Democratic point of view:

As dissatisfaction with the President and Republican-led Congress grows, voters are poised to affect sweeping change. The “sixth year itch”, where voters turn out the party in power in large numbers, is by no means a new phenomenon; only Bill Clinton, in the history of modern campaigns, avoided his party losing seats in the mid-term elections of his second term. Today, Republicans’ failures, especially when they control all the branches of government, suggest the potential for a historical trend will continue in 2006. Importantly, independent and undecided voters are noticeably negative in their assessments of Bush and the direction of the country. [snip]

One of the most important fights in the 2006 elections will be for control of the agenda. Republicans clearly want to centralize this election around security because of their continued advantage on the issue though recent events have tarnished that. In order to make real gains Democrats must at least neutralize the issue. Democrats should put resources into establishing their credentials on security, while emphasizing Republican failures. To this end, the issue over port security should be the start of a frank dialogue on national and homeland security policy, not an isolated news story. This formula – capitalizing on the current political atmosphere, presenting a real alternative to the status quo of costly corruption, and neutralizing the security issue while harnessing their strengths on domestic issues – has the potential to give the Democrats big gains.

Two quick observations. First, the numbers on McCain are really interesting and deserve more discusssion, something I hope to tackle early next week. Second, the operative phrase from Lake's analysis is that Democrats have to "neutralize the issue" of national security. Democrats aren't going to outpoll Republicans on national security (despite that snap Rasmussen poll on the Dubai Ports World deal from last week), but they do need to find a way to close the gap with the GOP on the issue - and the current port controversy offers precisely that kind of opportunity.