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Morning Jay: Gallup's Bouncing Ball, "Wasted" GOP Votes, Jindal, Daniels, and more ...

6:30 AM, Sep 8, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. C'mon, you knew this would happen, right?  Gallup finds a 10-point shift in party preferences toward the Democrats in the last week, which nobody else found: 

Republicans and Democrats are tied at 46% among registered voters in Gallup's weekly tracking of congressional voting preferences, marking a shift after five consecutive weeks in which the Republicans held the advantage. 

Do we have whiplash yet?  Even TPMDC has trouble getting excited over this "shift."

Four points in response:

-Gallup is still polling registered voters, not likely voters.  The GOP lead among likely voters could be 5-10% larger.  Next week or thereabouts, Gallup should start unveiling its likely voter results.

-As I have noted several times before, Gallup is bouncy.  It's just the way the pollster is.

-The internals are still brutal for Democrats.  Gallup shows the parties splitting their own partisan vote 93-5 apiece, and the GOP winning Independents by 49-33. If you take these partisan spreads, allocate the undecideds proportionally, and apply them to the 2008 party ID breakdown, the final popular vote would have been a 50-50 split, and we might be humming Hail to the Chief to President John McCain.   

-The 2008 party ID breakdown depended upon unprecedented Democratic enthusiasm.  This year -- according to Gallup's own numbers -- there is unprecedented Republican enthusiasm. If we combine the Gallup spreads with the 2006 party ID breakdown (still a great year for Democrats), we get a 52-48 Republican advantage. 

2. Will GOP votes be "wasted"?  Carmen from New York writes with this interesting question:

While many junkies obsess over the “registered vs likely” voter phenom, I wonder whether the GOP is running up the generic ballot score by taking 74% in a bunch of “hard right” districts, but will fall short in places like suburban PA – leaving us with another House led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Carmen's intuitions are pointing in the right direction.  Look at the GOP share of the two-party vote versus its House seats from 1994 through 2004.

1994: 53.5% / 230 seats

1996: 49.99% / 227 seats

1998: 51.2% / 223 seats

2000: 50.2% / 222 seats

2002: 52.5% / 229 seats

2004: 51.3% / 232 seats

The GOP’s best share of the vote came in 1994, but you can see that the party “only” won 230 seats.  It won a smaller share of the vote in 1996 and 2002, but still won about the same number of seats.  In 2004, it won more seats with fewer votes.  

This speaks to Carmen's point.  Surging challenger parties can "waste" their votes, and this inefficiency is not just due to “hard right” districts that go from 64% to 74%, but “hard left” ones as well.  The GOP had an uptick from 14% to 22% in Maxine Water’s district between 1992 and 1994 -- that was all a “wasted” vote.

Even so, a GOP lead of 52% or more in the two-party vote, which would underperform the current RealClearPolitics average of the generic ballot, should still produce a Republican majority.  It would be very difficult for Democrats to hold the House while losing the popular vote by 4 points.  Not technically impossible, and not without precedent, but you would need an awfully peculiar distribution of the vote.

3. Is 218 enough?  Woe betide the party that "wins" a House "majority" of 218 votes, just enough to control the lower chamber.  If the best thing in the world is power without responsibility, the worst thing is responsibility without power.  That's exactly what a 218-217 majority is.  Responsibility without power.  And yet the Democrats say that is "all that matters." From Roll Call:

“At the end of the day, all that matters is whether we control the majority ... that’s the only thing that matters, and we have to set up an environment where our ultimate objective — maintaining the majority — is met,” said a Democratic leadership aide, who acknowledged that the party faces a “very, very tough — in many cases brutal — election.”

This is either spin or insanity.  A Democratic majority of one vote would surely make a representative like Gene Taylor, Walt Minnick, or Bobby Bright the pivotal member.  These three conservative Democrats have consistently voted against the Pelosi agenda.  Imagine how peculiar a 218-217 Democratic majority would be: liberal committee chairmen like Henry Waxman would have to draft bills that could win over conservatives like Gene Taylor.  Easier said than done!  If the Democrats have a 218-217 majority, the chamber will effectively be deadlocked, yet Democrats would still take all the responsibility, as they would be "in charge."

4. How Wilsonian of you! Smart political observers in 1911 could tell very early that Woodrow Wilson, just elected the governor of New Jersey, had ambitions for the White House.  Wilson had won the state's Democratic nomination in 1910 in large part because he had the backing of the party machine.  And when James Smith, the machine boss, tried to get himself named to the vacant Senate seat from New Jersey, Wilson threw in against him. 

That was the kind of thing you had to do in 1911 if you wanted to be president -- you had to run against the machines.  That's an instance of a general rule that says presidential contenders have to play beyond their party's narrower interests.  Bill Clinton did something similar with his so-called "Sister Souljah Moment."

Yesterday, I noticed two potential Republican candidates making those kinds of moves. First was Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal:

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has finally answered a questioned asked of him for months: Will he endorse embattled Republican Sen. David Vitter's reelection bid?

The answer is not for now.

"Voters can make up their own minds," the Louisiana governor and fellow Republican told local television station WDSU.

Second was Indiana's governor Mitch Daniels:

Republicans have done "not too darn much" to affirmatively outline how they'd govern if given power, one of the party's highest-profile governors said."...

"Certainly, the gubernatorial candidates, that [Mississippi Gov.] Haley [Barbour] and others have recruited and the congressional candidates I'm aware of are as good a crop," Daniels explained. "But other than that if you want to ask about policy, I think that's a blank yet to be filled in and I'd tell audiences at home, I'd say, 'We Republicans are on second base faster than I thought we'd be, but we didn't hit a double.'"

Remember, even though we are in the midst of the 2010 midterm, the 2012 campaign is actually not very far off.  In fact, Obama announced his exploratory committee in January, 2007.  That would put us just 5 months away from similar declarations for 2012.

5. Rothenberg makes it 3 for 3.  The three big race rankers are Charlie Cook, Larry Sabato, and Stuart Rothenberg.  Both Cook and Sabato are already out suggesting the GOP will control the House.  Yesterday, Rothenberg all but predicted the same.

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