Congressional Republicans have some reason to feel under siege. Public opinion polls show that congressional action in the Terri Schiavo case was unpopular. George W. Bush's job ratings have dipped, and Congress' job rating is lower. Many polls show that Bush's proposal for personal retirement accounts in Social Security is unpopular, too. The Washington Post and the New York Times have been hammering away at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Despite good economic numbers, most voters feel the economy is in trouble and the nation is on the wrong track.
But Republicans should pause before they panic. Polls on unfamiliar issues are notoriously volatile, and results can shift wildly when questions are worded slightly differently.
When pollster John Zogby asked, "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?" Seventy-nine percent said they should not be denied, and 9 percent said they should.
When Fox News pollster John Gorman asked, "Do you favor or oppose giving individuals the choice to invest a portion of their Social Security contributions in stocks or mutual funds?" Sixty percent said yes, and 28 percent said no. Both Zogby and Gorman, by the way, are Democrats. So the polls hyped by the mainstream media are not necessarily the final word on opinion.
In any case, when you're talking political numbers, you should remember that some numbers are harder than others. And the hardest numbers in politics are election results. Most journalists and politicians don't spend much time looking at them. They should. Because the 2004 presidential election results tell us that Republicans are in even stronger shape than their 55-45 and 232-203 Senate and House margins suggest.
Start with the Senate. George W. Bush carried 31 states that elect 62 senators. There are nine Republican senators from Kerry states and 16 Democratic senators from Bush states. Many of these are from states that were close in the presidential election. But there are 11 Democrats and only three Republicans from states where their presidential nominee got less than 47 percent of the vote. There are more Democrats with political incentives to vote with Bush than there are Republicans with incentives to vote against him.
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