The Shocking Number in ABC/WaPo Final Survey

So today’s buzzkill for progressives was the (presumably) final ABC/WaPo national survey prior to next Tuesday’s elections, which shows “the fundamentals” driving a big Republican advantage:

Republicans enter the final week of the midterm campaign holding higher ground than the Democrats, aided by public dissatisfaction with President Obama’s leadership, with the overall direction of the country and with the federal government’s ability to deal with major problems, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Driving attitudes is a pervasive sense of a country in trouble. Overwhelming majorities say the country is badly off-track and give the economy negative ratings. Economic expectations are little better today than they were at this time four years ago.

Six in 10 say they cannot trust the government in Washington to do what is right — the same as a year ago in the aftermath of the government shutdown and the botched rollout of the federal Web site for the Affordable Care Act.

With multiple crises confronting the country — including the spread of Ebola in West Africa and cases here at home, as well as threats from Islamic State militants — a majority now says the government’s ability to deal with big problems has declined in the past few years. Among those who say this, more — by 3 to 1 — blame Obama and the Democrats rather than Republicans in Congress.

From the perspective of what we were all talking about at the beginning of the year, the most telling finding is that optimism about the economy has not emerged at all, despite month after month of net job gains and a slowly but steadily dropping unemployment rate. For some political scientists, that alone should be enough to sink the incumbent president’s party, particularly if you add in the threat of an actual war emerging.

But the most shocking finding is this one:

When asked whether they will vote for the Democrat or the Republican for the House in their districts, 50 percent of likely voters say Republican and 44 percent say Democrat. Among the larger universe of registered voters, Democrats have an edge — 47 percent to 44 percent. That swing of nine points between registered and likely voters is identical to the difference recorded at this point in 2010.

That flatly contradicts what most surveys were showing up until recently. Indeed, here’s what Nate Silver said on the subject in September:

A mild piece of good news for the Democrats is that the turnout gap may not be as large as it was in 2010. Both YouGov and NBC/Marist released results among both registered voters and likely voters in each of the states they polled — and on average, their likely-voter models showed the Republican candidate doing a net of about 2.5 percentage points better than in the registered-voter version of their surveys. That’s in line with the historical average gap between registered and likely voters in midterm years — rather than the 6-point gap that persisted throughout 2010.

But there’s another way to look at the WaPo/ABC numbers: with Democrats actually holding an advantage nationally among RVs, a truly heroic GOTV effort could theoretically change a lot of results. It’s simply not clear whether or not LV screens are picking up “unenthusiastic” voters who could nonetheless get pushed and pulled to the ballot box.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.