I've always thought that "national horserace" polls in presidential elections are silly, even though my firm must conduct them, too. We all learned dramatically in 2000 that the popular vote of the nation as a whole means nothing if a candidate doesn't carry the electoral vote -- and that means winning key "swing" states.
The same is true for national polls on issues such as healthcare reform. One that caught a lot of flack was a recent New York Times survey. It went to great pains to describe all of the details of a healthcare proposal that might be one component of all the current proposals facing Congress. The Times' wording of its poll question made "national healthcare" sound like candy canes and lemon drops. Not surprisingly, the poll produced a result that no one could swallow -- that well more than 70 percent of Americans favor the president's healthcare proposal.
The Times' survey may have been spot on for whatever world it polled in. But its results won't hold water in some of the critically important states where Senate Democrats -- who will be needed to pass any healthcare reform -- must attempt to stay popular.
Take North Carolina, for example. Our own InsiderAdvantage poll, conducted for the Southern Political Report, surveyed more than 800 registered voters in that state. The poll indicated that both incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr and the newly elected Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan are not exactly the toast of the town. Both have approval ratings of 39 percent. That's bad. Really bad.
For Hagan, the news should be a wake-up call. That's because the same poll showed Barack Obama with an approval rating of 50 percent in North Carolina. That's exactly where he was in November when he defeated John McCain. But Hagan has tumbled from a 53-percent victory in November to an undeniably low approval rating now. And it has happened quickly. So what gives?
Here is the answer: Congress has taken control of healthcare reform, and the public just doesn't care for Congress. With each passing week, the House and Senate more and more confuse and scare the public. Lawmakers do this damage by unscrolling more -- and more complicated -- versions of new national healthcare plans.
Again, 50 percent of residents of North Carolina approve of the president's job performance, while 37 percent disapprove, with the rest undecided. These same poll respondents said they oppose "the healthcare proposals" -- as they understand them -- that are being advocated by Obama and the Congressional Democratic leadership, by 51 percent to 45 percent.