SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Gauging The Mood Of Voters
The last such year was 1994. Nationally, congressional Democrats got pummeled. In North Carolina, Republicans took control of the House for the first time in the 20th century. At the time, plenty of wags attributed the Republicans' rise to Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America. Bill Clinton's ham-fisted efforts to reform health care and insurance were also cited.
Today, most political consultants agree that Gingrich's contract simply tapped into voter frustration and anger that would have taken a toll on incumbents with or without it.
Will 2006 follow a similar course?
Certainly, anyone paying attention knows that voter anger, fed by a feeling of utter disconnect to elected officials who seemingly cannot be shamed by any amount of scandal, may be reaching that same kind of boiling point.
What makes North Carolina so interesting to the political junkies is that it looms as the anti-matter version of Washington. Here, Democrats are in charge and embroiled in political scandal. Up there, Republicans stand to lose congressional seats and power because of indictments and indiscretions. An unpopular president who led the country into a troubling war and is the subject of curses at gas pumps everywhere isn't helping the GOP cause.
But the question to be answered come November is whether the trends lining up against Republicans nationally override and obscure Democrats' own ethical lapses within the state. If they do, Democrats could even expand their majorities in the North Carolina House and Senate.
But talking to a few political consultants around the state, I'm far from convinced that Democrats will pick up legislative seats. Instead, some private polling suggests that the mood of North Carolina voters is quite different from that of the electorate nationally.
Nationally, polls show that voters who in 2004 cast ballots for John Kerry are much more likely to turn out to vote in November than those who cast ballots for George W. Bush.
In North Carolina, though, the numbers seem to indicate that neither Republicans nor Democrats are particularly motivated.
One consultant says his polling shows that overall turnout is likely to be 5 to 6 percentage points down from a typical non-presidential election. The only group of voters that is revved up to go to the polls: independents.
If his numbers turn out to be correct, the only logical explanation is that independents are motivated by anger. And their anger isn't directed at any one party; it's directed at incumbents.
A lobbyist who occasionally commissions some polling wasn't surprised by those findings. He believes Democratic and Republican candidates are underestimating voter discontent, asking wrongheaded questions that force voters to chose between the two parties.
"Ask them who they're mad at," he said. "They'll tell you, 'The people in charge.'"
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh
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