Voters: Forget Politics. Jobs, Please!

| Fri Nov. 5, 2010 11:06 AM EDT

The most widely accepted narrative to emerge from the 2010 midterm elections, in which Democrats took a "shellacking" and lost the most congressional seats since World War II, was this: Sick of liberal overreach, voters—especially independents—shifted their favor to the right, choosing Republican candidates in huge numbers.

Not so, according to a new exit poll by the firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. The firm's findings, released Friday, show that voters weren't necessarily allying themselves with the GOP, but rather were voicing their disapproval with Washington as a whole, and especially with the federal government's inability to restart America's economic engine. To wit, voters polled gave equally poor favorability ratings to both parties as well as the tea party, the poll found. Twenty-six percent of voters said their vote was a message to "both parties," while 20 percent said it was a rebuke of Obama and 15 percent said it was a rebuke of congressional Democrats. Voters' chief complaint was "too much bickering in Washington"—a charge directed at both parties.

What matters most to voters isn't political nit-picking or Washington drama but the economy, plain and simple. As pollster Stan Greenberg, a former Clinton White House staffer, put it, "While this clearly was a the president and Democrats for failing to fix the economy, there's very little indication it was an affirmation of conservative ideology and agenda. In fact, we were rather surprised in many ways at the fact that the voters, in large numbers, are still looking for larger answers to an economy that's not working for them in a situation that they find for the country very worrisome."

That jobs-centric conclusion probably isn't so revelatory for most Americans. After all, outside the Beltway, where such politica narratives thrive, is where most unemployed people live. But it's a welcome corrective here in Washington, where the conventional wisdom suggests a GOP revival supposedly spurred by voters' newfound embrace of the Republican Party's ideas, however scarce they may be.

Here's more from the poll:

  • "Fifty-eight percent of voters said they were much or somewhat more likely to vote for a candidate that promised "to change Washington for the middle class. That means eliminating the special deals and tax breaks won by corporate lobbyists for Wall Street, paid for by American taxpayers and workers' outsourced jobs. Republicans have pledged to protect those breaks. We should cut taxes for the middle class and small business to create jobs."
  • Compared to a candidate who attacked Democrats for the economic stimulus and health care reform, 57 percent of voters said they were much or somewhat more likely to support a candidate with a "made-in-America" campaign message that points out that Republicans have "pledged to support free trade deals and protect tax breaks for companies that send American jobs to India and China."
  • Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that "America is falling behind" in the global economy and that "we need a clear strategy to make things in America, make our economy competitive, and revive America's middle class."
  • Sixty-nine percent said that "politicians should keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare" as they attempt to address the national deficit.
  • A majority opposed the Republican plan to cut $100 billion from domestic spending programs while extending the Bush tax cuts to those earning more than $250,000, while 51 percent said they agreed that those top-end tax cuts should expire and with proposals offered by Democrats to reduce the deficit over time.
  • Significant majorities in the poll supported new investments in infrastructure through a national infrastructure bank, a five-year strategy for reviving manufacturing in America."