Midterm Elections and Corporate Money: Voters Don’t Care

The Democrats may decry the infusion of corporate spending in this year’s campaigns, but voters don't seem to care. Pollster Douglas E. Schoen on why the party has only itself to blame.

The Democrats may decry the infusion of corporate spending in this year's campaigns, but voters don't seem to care. Pollster Douglas E. Schoen on why the party has only itself to blame. Plus, midterm predictions from the Election Oracle.

With less than a week until Election Day, the Democrats are facing an electoral defeat of potentially unprecedented magnitude.

The reason for this is simple: The Democrats have not been able to defend their record or their initiatives in any serious way, nor have they been able to project a clear sense of competence, a plan going forward and a sense of direction for the country.

Rather than emphasizing results and outcomes in the campaign cycle, Democratic candidates have been running away from the President and his agenda—and in some instances even attacking it, rather than supporting it.

And because the Democrats have no positive agenda of their own, they have turned to an attack that appears to be falling on deaf ears and have little if any support.

As this campaign nears to an end, the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership have been pushing hard on the theme of Republicans' reliance on foreign campaign money and large secret donations and campaign expenditures, tied into the controversial Supreme Court Citizens United decision.

They have systematically intensified attacking private conservative groups, individuals like the Chamber of Commerce, and Karl Rove, and insisting that generic organizations with little visibility like Americans for Prosperity, and American Crossroads are fronts for secret corporate campaign expenditures.

It appears that these attacks, pervasive as they are, have failed to convince or have any real impact on voters.

Specifically, the DNC is running an ad on national cable "at least through the week," that warns of "millions being spent by right wing groups to buy an election - all from secret donors" and "calling on Karl Rove to show exactly who is funding his attack ads."

The 11 Hottest Midterm Races to WatchThis type of attack is doomed to fail and recent polling shows it is most likely counterproductive. Put simply the upcoming midterm elections is viewed as a referendum on the perceived failures of President Obama and the Democratic leadership, not a reaction against campaign spending.

Indeed, results from a recently conducted survey show that if the Republicans win one of both houses in Congress over half (53%) of the electorate says that it will be because of the perceived failed policies of Obama and the Democrats in Congress, while only 29% think it is because Republican special interest groups bought the election.

Voters say they are not voting Democrat this year because they don't want the Democratic Party to remain in charge, they believe that the Democratic Party is out of touch with ordinary citizens, they disagree with their approach to major issues, and believe that the Democrats are big spenders-and-taxers.

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Moreover, a majority of Americans disapprove of President Obama's performance in office and would considering voting to replace him in 2012. Indeed, 56% of the electorate now says that President Obama does not deserve to be reelected—while only 38% say the he deserves reelection.

Not surprisingly, there is little evidence that any of the specific attacks coming from the White House are working. Rather, it appears that these attacks on the Tea Party and private groups, businesses, and individuals, pervasive as they are, have failed to convince or have any real impact on voters.

Indeed, results from a recently conducted survey show that voters have a very positive impression of the Chamber of Commerce and a somewhat positive impression of Karl Rove. The reason why these Democratic attacks have fallen on deaf ears is that while voters are certainly concerned about the influence of foreign money in elections, they do not necessarily ascribe its role or influence exclusively or even disproportionately to Republicans.

While a substantial majority (72%) of voters say that special interest groups are using foreign money to influence the U.S. elections, they associate this behavior nearly as much with the Democrats (30%) as they do with the Republicans (35%).

Moreover, voters do believe that corporations should be able to speak out in terms of their policies, if not in terms of telling people how to vote. By a margin of 47%-31%, Americans say that corporations should be allowed to promote free market policies, and only a narrow majority say that corporations should not be allowed to promote candidates favorable to business (48%-41%).

And a substantial majority of Americans (62%) say that the Tea Party movement is a movement of ordinary people taking action on their own—not a movement funded or orchestrated by the rich and powerful (21%).

The Republicans, to the very large extent, are merely saying no to the Democratic agenda and saying that they will support an agenda largely, if not entirely, driven by the Tea Party movement—limited government, lower taxes, less spending, and generally saying no to President Obama.

Why then, are they voting for the Republicans and supporting the Tea Party movement?

People are voting for the Republicans and supporting the Tea Party because they want limited government, job creation, lower taxes, and a fiscally conservative pro-growth agenda.

Recent polling on both the state and national level suggests that the overall electorate—and particularly Tea Party supporters—disapprove of President Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership GOP would do a better job than Democrats on handling the economy, creating jobs and running the government. They say they are voting Republican to oppose Obama's agenda, because the Democrats are doing a bad job at running our country, and because they agree with the Republicans more on fiscal and social issues.

Indeed, the Republicans get higher marks with likely voters than Democrats on handling the economy, taxes, the deficit, job creation, immigration and national security, and on managing the federal government.

Nearly half (49%) of voters say that they are less favorable to the Democratic Party since the Obama Administration has taken office, while only 15% say they are more favorable.

The Democrats are pursuing a profoundly wrong approach in attacking the Chamber of Commerce, private business groups, and private citizens on allegations of accepting foreign campaign donations.

Put simply, the American people are saying: We are voting not because of our fear of corporate money in the electoral process. We are voting to send a message to the Obama administration that we do not agree with their policies, and we do support limited government, reducing spending, and cutting taxes. To be sure we are concerned about foreign money, but it as almost as much of a problem for Democrats as it is for Republicans.

And this all makes sense.

At a time when we have 9.6% unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth and tight credit, a cynical and uncertain electorate has lost confidence in the President, his Administration, and the Democratic leadership.

But the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves—not shadowy foreign interests, not domestic corporations—but their own policies and general approach to governance that have not only failed, but have also not addressed the American peoples' fundamental concerns.

Douglas Schoen is a political strategist and author of the just-released book, "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" (Harper 2010), co-authored with Scott Rasmussen. During this election cycle, he worked for Florida Senate candidate Jeff Greene and New York governor candidate Andrew Cuomo.