According to many experts, Republicans are expected to hold the House and could even take the U.S. Senate. This seems to be a perplexing turn of events for many in the media.
"Poll: Democrats' advantage on key issues is not translating to a midterm-election edge," reads the headline of a piece in The Washington Post by Dan Balz and Scott Clement, examining the guts of a Washington Post-ABC News poll—which, in turn, is titled "Democrats hold issue advantage, but not on 2014 midterm vote."
Take health care. The authors explain that despite "the problems with the health-care law's implementation"—because only the "implementation" has been problematic, right?—"Democrats maintain an edge over Republicans on which party Americans trust to deal with the issue, by a margin of 44 percent to 36 percent."
In hypothetical terms, Democrats do hold a lead on "trust" over Republicans—a lead that has significantly contracted since Barack Obama held 20-point leads on a Republican challenger back in 2008. More significantly, though, what the authors left out of the story was that 15 percent of extraordinarily sensible voters say they don't trust either party to handle their health care choices.
Once we recalculate, adding in those numbers, here's what the poll actually tells us:
- Americans who want Democrats running their health care: 44 percent.
- Americans who do not want Democrats running their health care: 51 percent.
In fact, the very same Washington Post ran a post titled "Don't trust either political party? Then you've probably thought about voting Republican in 2014," which makes the case that disgruntled and independent voters are breaking toward the GOP. Why does it matter? Not long ago, Gallup found that 42 percent of Americans identified as political independents in 2013. It's the highest percentage the pollster has recorded since it began asking the question.
And the Washington Post-ABC News poll breakdown finds that independents—largely ignored in stories—make up the largest bloc of its polling (30 percent Democrats, 22 percent Republicans, and 40 percent independents). So ignoring independents can trigger wishful thinking.
Republicans may be unpopular, but when it comes to quantifiable, real-world health care policy, Democrats are, at the very least, also losing. When those polled were asked whether they approve or disapprove of the way President Barack Obama is handling "implementation" of the new health care law, 38 percent said they approve, and 57 percent said they disapprove. (One wonders what the numbers would look like if those polled were asked whether they approve or disapprove of the law itself rather than just its execution.)
But even if we concede that the GOP has a baffling inability to articulate a meaningful reform platform—or, even if it had the ability, would offer a policy that is unpopular—it's quite a jump to assume that Americans approve of the technocratic misery they've been subjected to thus far.
Almost every issue (save some social issues) break similarly in polls. Even with that said, not all issues are equally significant. Obama is attempting to transform the minimum wage into a "key" issue, because it's not. In Gallup's "most important" issues poll, the minimum wage issue shows up nowhere, with even "the gap between rich and poor" pulling a 2 percent showing. Immigration is similarly unimportant to most voters.
That's not to say that, broadly speaking, these aren't useful political strikes on the GOP. But if we're to believe polls, the most vital issues to voters are the economy, jobs and deficits/debt. And when asked which political party they trust to do a better job handling the economy, voters in the Washington Post-ABC News poll split evenly at 41 percent—with 12 percent saying neither. That seems to reflect the nation's preference more than any cherry-picked poll numbers.