Voters pessimistic about the economy, positive about pot, new poll says

The Battleground Poll of registered voters, produced by a pollster from each party, found anger at incumbents in Congress, pessimism about the economy, and more openness to legalizing pot.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Ed Goeas and Celinda Lake speak at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Americans are pessimistic about the economy, angry at incumbent members of Congress, concerned the middle class gets insufficient assistance, and increasingly open to changes in marijuana laws.

That's the picture that emerges from the George Washington University Battleground Poll produced by Democratic pollster and strategist Celinda Lake and Republican pollster and political consultant Ed Goeas. The poll, of 1,000 registered voters, was released Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

While they have not abandoned all hope of seeing the economy improve, voters questioned for the Battleground Poll had a bleak view on a number of key economic issues. Some 73 percent said their personal economic situation had gotten worse or was the same over the past four years. An even larger majority, 76 percent, disagreed with the statement that the next generation would be better off economically.

Middle-class Americans “feel they are being squeezed from both ends,” says Mr. Goeas, president and CEO of the Tarrance Group, a polling and strategic research firm specializing in Republican campaigns. “They feel they are disadvantaged in terms of the rich, and they are disadvantaged in terms of all their tax money goes to help bottom end, nothing is done for them.”

Some 70 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that our economy makes it too tough for the middle class to make ends meet.

General voter unhappiness with Congress is widespread, with 82 percent of those surveyed saying they disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  “Both parties in Congress are universally despised,” says Ms. Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, which specializes in polling for and advising Democratic candidates. “The best thing the Republicans have going for them is how much the Democrats are hated. The best thing the Democrats have going for them is how much the Republicans are hated,” she says.

Most worrisome for congressional incumbents is how poorly voters viewed their own member of Congress. In the new poll, 42 percent disapproved of their own member’s performance and 12 percent said they were unsure. Only 46 percent approved.

“They haven’t decided to fire their congressperson, but they have definitely put them on notice,” Lake says. “If we do our job right, it could be more of an anti-incumbent year rather than an anti-Democrat or anti-Republican year.”

With Democrats moving money from House races in an effort to hold control of the Senate, a change in Republicans’ control of the House is not likely. “If there was enough money in the House races, you would see a surprising number of upsets on both sides of incumbents who didn’t see it coming,” Lake said. 

A major challenge for Democrats, both Goeas and Lake said, is the sharp advantage Republicans hold in the portion of their voters who say they will show up to vote in the 2014 elections. ”Turnout is our challenge and there are some pretty dramatic numbers,” Lake says. “64 percent of Republicans are extremely likely to vote, only 57 percent of Democrats, but that drops down to 36 percent among young people.”

Low approval ratings for President Obama also hurt Democrats’ chances in the 2014 elections. The Battleground Poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Mr. Obama’s overall performance, with only 44 percent approving. When it comes to the president’s performance on economic issues, 55 percent disapprove. “We have seen him go from a problem with a part of the electorate to a problem with all the electorate in terms of strong support,” Goeas said.

The pollsters found growing public support for changes in marijuana laws. Some 73 percent now favor making marijuana available for medical purposes in their state, and 53 percent favor decriminalization of the drug. The pollsters found that marijuana initiatives help drive voter turnout, with 68 percent of those surveyed saying they would be more likely to vote in an election where legalization was on the ballot.

“We are very excited about the marijuana numbers in this poll, not only for personal consumption to get through this election, but [also] in terms of turnout,” Lake quipped. 

The poll surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide from March 16 through 2 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

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