And for the first time since 2002, Carville and Greenberg found that more voters, 45 percent to 42 percent, said Republicans would do a better job handling the economy than Democrats. Just last May, Democrats held a 16-point lead.
Is there anything that could avert Democratic defeats? Something unexpected could always happen, of course. But short of that, Carville and Greenberg found, things would have to improve markedly in the next few months. If unemployment falls below 10 percent and begins a steady decline, and the values of homes and retirement funds start to rise, then Democrats will be OK. But if joblessness remains high, along with the deficit, and the Dow and home values are shaky — that's a brutal scenario for the party in charge. "The punishing of incumbents for negative economic scenarios is most pronounced in Democratic-held seats," Carville and Greenberg write.
The two Democratic strategists take some comfort in the fact that the Republican brand is still unpopular. "This does not yet look like a wave election," they write hopefully, noting that the public doesn't particularly like the GOP. But the report points to a political paradox. After a huge election, the victorious party usually has some time to govern while the loser rebuilds. But this time, Democrats have messed up so fast that the Republicans haven't had time to recover.
All in all, it's a perilous situation for Democrats taking their House and Senate majorities into next year's elections. "The slow recovery and continued job losses, combined with Wall Street bailouts, big bonuses, government takeovers, deficits and possible gridlock, are an ugly brew," Carville and Greenberg write. "For Democrats to reverse the slide in their standing, they need to focus with urgency on jobs." Urgency — that's the key word, and the reason for Obama's "jobs summit" and jobs speech. But voters know Democratic leaders haven't shown that urgency about jobs, and are in fact working 24/7 to pass a national healthcare bill that isn't the country's top priority. What "The Economy and Politics of 2010" shows is that this could be a costly mistake.