The difference between attitudes and voting intentions

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ATTITUDES AND VOTING INTENTIONS…. Newsweek has a piece about its new poll in its latest edition, and it features a paragraph Democrats will no doubt find heartening:

Simply put, in the NEWSWEEK Poll, voters said they trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle pretty much every problem currently facing the country: Afghanistan (by 6 points), health care (by 12), immigration (by 2, though that figure is within the margin of error), Social Security (by 14), unemployment (by 12), financial reform (by 14), energy (by 19), and education (by 19). Voters even prefer Democrats to Republicans on federal spending (by 4 points), taxes (by 5), and the economy (by 10) — the GOP’s core concerns. The only area where Republicans outpoll Democrats is the issue of terrorism, where they lead by a 6-point margin.

It’s the next paragraph in the article that Dems will have trouble swallowing.

Still, voters are split on which party should control Congress after November — 44 percent went for Republicans, 46 percent for Democrats — and most experts are predicting sizable Republican gains in both the House and the Senate.

It’s a frustrating disconnect for Democrats. Voters still don’t like, trust, or believe Republicans, but the electorate is likely to reward them anyway. The ostensible point of the Newsweek poll was to measure public “anger” this election season, but the data suggested rage may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

So if not anger, the president, or the issues, what will be the deciding factor in the 2010 midterm elections? According to the NEWSWEEK Poll, the condition of the economy, and the inability of anyone in Washington to improve it, is by far the most important force at play in this year’s congressional campaigns.

In other words, it’s the same dynamic we’ve been talking about for months. Struggling economy + high unemployment + public anxiety = bad news for the incumbent majority party. Dems didn’t create this mess, but they’re likely to shoulder the blame anyway. Why would the electorate support a Republican Party that caused the mess, refused to work to clean it up, and would pursue an agenda likely to make things worse? Because voting isn’t always rational.

Just as an aside, a week after House Republicans unveiled their “Pledge to America,” two-thirds of the country says it hasn’t heard of it, and the remaining third is split as to whether it’s any good.

If the GOP reclaims a majority of either chamber, we’re likely to hear the argument that the results were some kind of endorsement of the Republican agenda. That argument will be wrong — most Americans had no idea what the “Contract with America” was in 1994, and this year’s “Pledge” is about as well known now.