LCG Election Monitor: Midterms are an electoral hurricane for Democrats

The race is on. No, I’m not referring to the one between Republicans and Democrats; instead, I’m talking about the race between pollsters and media organizations to project this November’s GOP margin of victory. There have been some pretty smart analyses produced over the last several weeks, including ones by Cook, Rothenberg, RealClearPolitics, FiveThirtyEight and, most recently, the vaunted NBC political unit with its Voter Confidence Index.

However, in the quest to compare this year to other “wave” elections (see 1994, 1982 and 1974) they may have all missed the most important phenomenon of all: the growth rate of this potential electoral hurricane. We have all been so concerned about looking at this as some fixed point in time — by, for example, trying to compare this year to elections that took place 30 and 40 years ago — that we have forgotten to look back just 90 days ago. When one does, the only conclusion that you can have is the following: we are seeing an intensifying political storm that for Democrats is the electoral equivalent of a catastrophic hurricane.

First, here’s a quick primer on hurricanes. According to climatologists, hurricanes can release an amount of energy in one day equal to all of the electricity generated across the globe in 200 days. Hurricanes also keep building as long as they keep getting energy from warm water. Hurricanes strengthen via the temperature of the water: the hotter the water, the more strength it gains. But if a hurricane moves over land or colder water, it starts to fizzle out.

Just like climatological hurricanes, an electoral hurricane is fed by an energy source. In politics this energy source is usually voter anger and frustration with the status quo. The Tea Party movement is one byproduct of this energy (to further this analogy, wind and rain are by-products of regular hurricanes). So the question is will this political hurricane continue to feed off the warm water of voter anger, or will those waters cool a bit as we get closer to shore (Election Day)?

To judge, let’s look at how this storm has intensified over the last 200 days.

We examined five key measures of voter anger: the percentage of voters who say the country is on the “wrong track,” the President’s disapproval rating, Congressional disapproval rating, the Generic Congressional ballot share for the party out of power (GOP) and the Party ID for the out-of-power party (GOP). All of these are negative measures for Democrats; that is, the higher the number the worse for the Democratic Party. (All data is from Pollster.com monthly averages for registered voters.) We then simply calculated the sum of these negative measures, which we will call — trumpets please — the LCG Voter Anger Index.

As you will note from the table below, the Voter Anger Index score in February of this year was 246. In May it rose to 250 and in August it stood at 259. In the last 90 days it has risen 9 points. The lesson here is not just that anger is high, it is that it is increasing with each passing day/week/month. The water temperature is not cooling; instead, it is getting warmer and feeding the storm. If it increases another 20 points by Election Day, the result would be catastrophic for the Democratic Party. We are talking about a 50 – 60 seat loss in the House and loss of the Senate.

November 1994 February 2010 May 2010 August 2010
Wrong track 62% 56% 59% 59%
Presidential disapproval 42% 47% 47% 51%
Congressional disapproval 65% 67% 66% 69%
Generic ballot share for out-of-power party 41% 44% 44% 45%
Party ID for out-of-power party 35% 32% 34% 36%
LCG Voter Anger Index 245 246 250 259

When we look at this from a historical perspective, we see that the anger level in February was already equal to 1994. In August of this year the Voter Anger Index was a full 14 points (or 6%) higher than it was in November of 1994. It is also important to note that this index is based on registered voters. Our assumption is that voter anger is even higher among likely voters and the measures we’ve seen — like the generic ballot — do suggest that.

Hurricanes are named. We all remember Katrina. For really destructive storms, the World Meteorological Organization sometimes takes names off the list. People don’t want to see the name again. Democrats might soon want to have this year’s election removed from the history books as well.

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