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July 28, 2010

Pollsters Assess Americans' Mood

Neil Newhouse and Peter Hart told state lawmakers how the midterm elections stack up.

LOUISVILLE, KY—America’s dissatisfaction with the current administration in Washington and its policies will trickle down to state legislative elections in November, two national pollsters said Wednesday during a General Session at the National Conference of State Legislatures 2010 Legislative Summit.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, who have spent decades gauging public sentiment for political candidates and the issues they face, said lower-than-desired presidential approval ratings have historically affected the midterm election races of candidates from the president’s party. Approval ratings below 50 percent have cost the president’s party an average of 41 midterm election seats since 1962, Newhouse said.

Currently, President Obama’s approval rating is 45 percent, according to the most recent Gallup Daily poll.

The most recent approval polls put Democrats in what Newhouse called a “precarious position,” although the news for most federal and state incumbents hoping for success in the next general election is not generally optimistic.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll for the week of July 17-21 indicates only 35 percent of Americans want to reelect their incumbents in November while 57 percent want to elect someone new. Hart said another poll shows 47 percent of voters want to replace every member of Congress, which he noted should put state legislators on notice.

“This is spread everywhere,” Hart said of the electorate’s unhappiness with both incumbents and issues like the economy—which polls show 47 percent of Americans believe is “stacked against” them, said Hart—and the new federal health care law—which polls show 33 percent of Americans believe will hurt them, said Newhouse.

To further illustrate how public mood could affect the outcome in November, Hart quoted polls that indicate only a third of Americans trust the stock market, while 53 percent say immigration does more harm than good.

“This is an election that has lots to do with fears and uncertainties,” said Hart, who has owned his own survey research company for 40 years and has, like Newhouse, represented dozens of federal and state officials in their run for office.

Newhouse, who was recently named Pollster of the Year for his work on last January’s election of Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and is cofounder of the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, said the trick for incumbents will be to spread the right message now until the election. That won’t be easy for any incumbent, Hart said. “If you think you’re safe, think again,” said Hart. “In this case, both parties are held in negative regard.”

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.