Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Smith Takes Another Poll Hit--Time for More Anti-War Posturing

These days Gordon Smith resembles nothing so much as a crab in a slowly warming pot--clearly getting uncomfortable, but with no good ideas on how to get himself out of the situation. And today's news brings word that the water temperature is rising.

First, a splash of background. As you may have seen via BlueO yesterday, over the weekend Smith enlisted the help of columnist George Will to re-burnish his moderate bona fides, with another attempt to make it seem like Smith is against the war. Will updated Smith's desperate meme on ABC's Sunday talk by declaring him the vanguard leader of disaffected Republicans:
George Stephanopoulus: Senator Smith told you that he believes he has, what?, about a dozen Republicans who will then join him in calling for a timetable for withdrawal?

George Will:
Well, that's what he said. That they will be where he is. And that is where he is.

The Republicans are scheduled, frankly, the way they talk, to panic in September. As in a way, they ought to. They're looking at another election on Iraq, and they'll be picking up the Republican Party in pieces with tweezers.
Your lips to God's ears, George--be sure to tell him this part, from your column:
“Smith has endorsed John McCain's presidential campaign. But the core of McCain's campaign is the puzzling doctrine that if we do not win in Iraq ‘they will follow us home.’ The global threat of terrorism cannot be defeated in Iraq, so, will terrorists not ‘follow us home’ only if U.S. forces continue to engage them in Iraq — where Gen. David Petraeus says there can be no military solution to that nation's afflictions? If so, that implies a need for endless engagement in Iraq, which is not a politically possible option.”
So Will is puzzled, too--and here he doesn't even mention the fact that Smith's most recent vote to fully fund the war was right in line with McCain doctrine. The folks at DPO didn't miss it, though:
“I remember the last time Gordon Smith pulled this stunt,” DPO Executive Director Trent Lutz said. “Last December, after telling as many reporters as he could find that he opposed the war, Senator Smith retreated to the senate chamber and continued voting for the conflict. By consistently voting for the war while telling the public he opposes it, he has lost all credibility with Oregonians. Who is going to believe him now?”
Good question--and the answer appears to be "not as many as before."

This month's Survey USA Senate tracking poll data is out, and the news continues to worsen for Oregon's junior Senator. Last month we did an extensive analysis of the numbers, showing you that Smith had fallen under 50% approval for the first time in a while at 48%, just shy of his 2-year low. However, the gap between approve and disapprove remained steady, at plus-9 or plus-10 for several months in a row.

For May the effect reversed itself--this time the approval number held fairly steady at 47%, but disapprovals jumped six points in a month (from 39% in May) to slash the gap to just two points, at 47-45. When you consider that he was at a healthy plus-28 just six months ago (58/30 in January), that is a tremendous overall drop. Also note that the net approval since January is -11, but the disapproval is +15, meaning that some folks who previously hadn't made up their minds are beginning to reach some conclusions--and they are not good for Gordo. (The "not sure" category has fluctuated back and forth a number of times, so the shift away from that choice may not be permanent).

We told you last time that much of the drop for Smith came from Republicans and non-affiliated voters. This time the GOP has taken Gordo back into the fold a bit, jumping their approval from 55% to 60%--but the news is worse for Smith among Democrats and NAVs. For surveyed Dems, opinions did a symmetrical flip: approval was down five points to 42; disapproval up five to 50, with a net approval loss of 10 points for the Senator. This shift has to be enormously soothing to the DPO and potential Democratic candidates, because in January Smith's approval stood at a whopping 62% among Dems. The 20-point cratering suggests that if they were initially fooled by Smith's pandering on the war, they've gotten over it.

Results among independents show a continued pattern of fluctuation from month to month...and it's another down month for Smith. His approvals within this group are essentially the same (46% down from 47%), but the disapprovals are up to 46% as well, six points more than last month and taken almost entirely from last month's "not sure" pile. Given the general national concordance between Dems and NAV's on the subject of the war, it may be no surprise that both groups saw a surge of decisiveness that trended towards the negative when evaluating Smith.

The other apparent driver for these numbers is the drop among people from places outside the Portland Metro area. As with Dems and NAVs, the recent movement is not so much a fall in approval as a spike in disapproval, fed by hardening opinions. Non-Portlanders went from 40% disapproval last month to 47%, an unusually large surge. Respondents beyond Portland have cut 11 points from his approvals just since March, added 14 points to his disapprovals--and have turned a plus-24 net approval into June's negative-1.

This may be the most troubling bleed of all for Gordo; as we said last time, if he can't figure out a way to motivate voters who aren't from the Big Three counties (Multno, WashCo, ClackaCo) he is severely cooked. And what this iteration of the SUSA survey set shows us is that his Extreme Congressional Makeover has not ended up helping his numbers long-term...and if these latest stats in the month after his vote to fully fund the war until September are any indication, the persistence with which Smith is trying to claim anti-war ground while voting the opposite way might just be starting to annoy some people. The DPO sees the hypocrisy pretty clearly:
“Gordon Smith has voted more than 20 times to authorize and fund the Iraq War and launched two media campaigns to convince Oregonians he opposes it. It does not matter how many reporters he talks to nor how slick his quotes are, he can’t hide his voting record in support of the Iraq War.”

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