September 28, 2006
The Real "Presidential Effect" On Midterm Elections
Jay Cost has a post up at Real Clear Politics about the relationship between polls and elections that is actually comprehensible to me, for a change. Usually, he gets so deep into the technical weeds that my eyes turn into little spirals, like in a Tex Avery cartoon; but this one, while requiring attention, was very rewarding, even to someone who isn't deeply versed in the intricacies of political polling.
His argument is this:
- Presidential approval ratings do affect midterm elections, but not directly;
- By and large, individual voters do not vote for or against candidates for the House or Senate on the basis of the president's job approval;
- However, there is an effect, and here is how it works: potential candidates must decide no later than the year before the election whether they will run, because it takes that long to raise money and line up support;
- And a major consideration for a strong potential candidate is his perception of how well the incumbent's party is doing: if they're strong, he probably decides to defer; but if they look weak, then he's more likely to jump into the race;
- So for the 2006 election, strong potential candidates looked at the polls from late 2005 and early 2006... the very period when President Bush's approval was languishing in the low 40s and even the high 30s;
- Thus, Bush's low job-approval ratings persuaded a number of strong candidates to jump into the race against Republican incumbents, that this was a good time to run, rather than waiting two or four years.
And that's why so many Republicans now are having such a tough reelection campaign, and also why fluctuations in Bush's approval (up or down), along with gasoline prices dropping, have not had much impact on the "toss-up" races: because the effect of Republican weakness already had its impact eight or nine months ago.
If I've misunderstood Jay's argument, I hope he jumps into the comments here and corrects me.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 28, 2006, at the time of 4:26 PM
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