Democrats in the most hotly contested Congressional districts face a daunting environment in 2010. The latest NPR Battleground poll surveyed voters in the 60 most competitive congressional districts held by Democrats and the 10 most competitive held by Republicans. This poll is the first in a series conducted together with Public Opinion Strategies for National Public Radio, neither of which is responsible for the conclusions described here.
The results are a wake-up call for Democrats whose loses in the House could well exceed 30 seats. In the named-congressional ballot in the 60 Democratic districts, Democrats trail their Republican opponent, 42 to 47 percent, with only a third saying they want to vote to-relect their member. In the top tier of 30 most competitive seats, the Democratic candidate trails by 9 points (39 to 48 percent) and by 2 points in the next tier of 30 seats (45 to 47 percent). On the other hand, the Republican candidates are running well ahead in their most competitive seats ( 53 to 37 percent). As we saw in the special election in PA-12, Democrats will have to battle on a seat-by-seat basis — that has shifted these kinds of numbers this year.
The effort by individual campaigns will have to push against walls that seem very hard to move at this point. We tested Democratic and Republican arguments on the economy, health care, financial reform and the big picture for the 2010 election. The results consistently favored the Republicans and closely resembled the vote breakdown. Democrats are hurt by a combined lack of enthusiasm and an anti-incumbent tone. Among the other findings:
*]62 percent of Republicans in Democratic districts describe themselves as very enthusiastic about the upcoming election. That compares with 37 percent of Democrats in those same districts.
*]By 57 to 37 percent, voters in these 60 Democratic seats believe that President Obama’s economic policies have produced record deficits while failing to slow job losses — and not averted a crisis or laid a foundation for future growth.
*]President Obama’s approval rating is at 40 percent in the Democratic districts, but it slightly better at 48 percent in the Republican districts where he outpaced John McCain in 2008.