Midterm elections exit poll: It was the economy, stupid

The national exit poll of midterm election voters showed massive dissatisfaction over the economy and nation's direction. But there were warning signs for Republicans, too.

Jacob Slaton/Reuters
Republican Tom Cotton reacts after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 4, 2014.
Kathy Willens/AP
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, celebrates with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul after he defeated Republican challenger Rob Astorino, at Democratic election headquarters in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. Cuomo is the first New York state Democratic governor since his father, Mario Cuomo, to win re-election in the nation's third largest state.

Voters sent a clear message to elected officials from President Obama on down Tuesday night: We’re not happy with the economy or the direction of the country overall.

So they handed the reins to Republicans in the Senate and in statehouses around the country, including several solidly Democratic states, and bulked up the Republican majority in the House to its highest level since the 1940s.

Almost two-thirds of voters – 65 percent – said the nation was off on the wrong track and even more – 70 percent – said the economy was bad, according to exit polling. Fully 78 percent of voters said they were worried about where the economy would go in the next year. Only 20 percent said they trust Washington all or most of the time, and 55 percent disapproved of President Obama’s performance.

“Such views customarily slam the president’s party, and so they did again,” writes Gary Langer, pollster for ABC News, in his analysis of the 2014 midterms’ exit poll. The survey of thousands of voters – taken right after they cast ballots, including early voters – is conducted by the National Election Pool, a consortium of news outlets: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, and the Associated Press.

Lest Republicans get too comfortable with Tuesday’s sweeping victory, the exit poll also contained plenty of warnings for the GOP. As recounted by Mr. Langer, here are some:

• Sixty percent of voters say they are dissatisfied or angry with the Republican leadership in Congress.

• Some 54 percent of voters say they have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party – equal to the percentage who view the Democrats unfavorably.

• Tuesday’s election was bad for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare, but not as bad as it might seem. Forty-six percent of voters said they think the law didn’t go far enough or had it about right, nearly equal to the 48 percent who say the ACA went too far.

• Forty-nine percent supported same-sex marriage; 48 percent opposed it.

• Fifty-three percent said they support legal abortion; 43 percent oppose it.

• Fifty-eight percent said they see climate change as a serious problem.

These data show that the Democrats have the upper hand on key social issues. For most voters, gay rights, abortion rights, and climate change are not the most important issues. The economy is still and will ever remain No. 1. But if the Republicans are to appeal to the broader, presidential-election-year electorate, they may need to rethink their posture on these issues – if not switching positions outright, at least deemphasizing them.

Another issue in the exit poll that might present opportunity for common ground is immigration reform. A majority of voters said they favor offering people in the country illegally a way to stay.

But first things first. Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obama will hold a press conference to talk about the midterm results. He is expected to reach out to Republicans on Capitol Hill and call for common ground in areas such as international trade, education, and infrastructure.

According to news reports, Obama also still plans to go forward with executive action on immigration before the end of the year, delaying deportations for additional categories of people in the country illegally beyond the young "Dreamers."

That, the thinking goes, will show that he’s not a lame duck and send a signal to Latino voters that the Democratic Party remains their political home. But such a move will also inflame GOP passions. Many Republicans believe he takes his executive power too far, in violation of the Constitution. 

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