Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review August 13, 2002 / 5 Elul, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

No Democratic tide |
In a column in the July 18, 1994, issue of U.S. News, I wrote that there was a serious possibility that Republicans would capture control of the House in November. It was, so far as I know, the first article in the national press that foresaw that year's Republican victory. The article cited five non-scandal-plagued Democratic incumbents who trailed Republican challengers in media or partisan polls. It's unusual for incumbents to trail in polls and a sign that a party is in trouble when competent incumbents are behind.

Today, amid much talk-cheerful talk by Democrats, pessimistic talk by Republicans-that issues of corporate wrongdoing are going to help the Democrats, there is no evidence, at least yet, of any such tide. Except for districts where incumbents have been forced to run against each other by redistricting, the number of House incumbents trailing challengers in publicly announced polls is zero. The closest thing is a Republican poll showing Minnesota's Democratic Rep. Bill Luther ahead 35 to 34. But Luther underperformed in 1998 and 2000, and is running in a mostly new district.

Five senators have trailed in publicly announced polls, but there is no partisan trend; they include Democrats Tim Johnson (S.D.) , Paul Wellstone (Minn.), Jean Carnahan (Mo.), and Republicans Tim Hutchinson (Ark.) and Bob Smith (N.H.) . (Smith's primary opponent, Rep. John Sununu, runs better.) In other Senate races, no recent polls show significant changes.

Local politics. All this is not to say that there won't be a Democratic trend by November. It does say that one hasn't appeared yet. An August 6 New York Times story said, "Rising voter concern about the nation's future, driven by an unsteady economy and unrest on Wall Street, is stirring nervousness among some Republicans and lifting confidence among Democratic leaders." But the article doesn't cite any numbers in any districts.

Now it is true that Democrats don't need as big a swing as Republicans needed in 1994 to win the House, and they only need to hold their current seats to maintain a majority in the Senate. A swing toward the Democrats that would show up as statistically insignificant in a poll could give them gains in both houses. But it is also true that changes in attitudes on general questions-whether the country is moving in the right direction, which party's candidate will you favor for the House-do not always move numbers in individual races.

Nor is it clear that Democrats have a big advantage on economic issues. The pro-Democrat Democracy Corps poll, taken July 22-24 (the Dow plunged 840 points July 19-23), shows Republicans ahead on the economy (44-39) and not far behind on standing up to powerful Washington special interests (30-31) or dealing with corporate abuses (34-39). Democracy Corps's Stanley Greenberg and James Carville recommend that Democrats attack Bush for conflicts of interest (though his ratings for honesty remain high), on handling the economy (though their own poll shows voters prefer Republicans on that), pensions, and Social Security.

Greenberg and Carville argue that Democrats can campaign on "major reforms to protect investors and people's 401(k) plans." But what voter expects the government to insure him against any loss in value? Democrats have attacked Republicans for favoring "privatization of Social Security," that is, allowing individual investment accounts as part of the system. But that policy has continued to poll well, if the issue is framed as Bush frames it, despite the stock market drop. Now Republicans are trying to turn the tables by attacking Democrats like Tim Johnson for backing "privatization," by which they mean government investment of Social Security funds.

Naturally, people planning to retire soon are disappointed with their 401(k)'s. But most of the 70 percent of voters who own stock aren't planning to cash in soon and are less concerned with their momentary balance than with whether they can expect progress in the lifelong project of accumulating wealth. And large majorities believe the stock market will be higher one year and 10 years from now. In the meantime, incumbents of both parties seem to be doing well, as they did in 1996, 1998, and 2000. The partisan deadlock hasn't yet been broken.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone