Painting the election landscape by the numbers

At a recent Business and Industry Association luncheon, Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, presented a program, “Shifting Sands: Handicapping the November Election.”He reminded listeners that the Democrats won big in 2006 and 2008, which was a reaction to President George W. Bush more than an endorsement of the platforms of the Democratic Party, since most people apparently wanted to throw out GOP officeholders but did not care about policy.He indicated that President Obama’s approval now is approximately 48 percent with 47 percent disapproving his performance. This is below average for a new president at this point in his term.Significantly, independents express a higher disapproval than approval of the president, and independent voters decide elections.Since World War II, the president’s party usually loses seats in off-year elections with only a couple of contrary examples. Based on President Obama’s approval rating, the Democratic Party could expect to lose about 30 seats in the House. However, when you add a bad economy to the approval rating analysis, it is more likely that Democrats will lose 45 to 50 seats, which might be enough for a change in control of the House.In New Hampshire, Smith stated that the Democrats are now the plurality party but it is whether people think of themselves as Republicans or Democrats that is most important, not how they are registered.Smith indicated that self-identification is very close between the parties. He also indicated that most “independents” are not really independent, since their self-identification classifies them in New Hampshire as approximately 40 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 30 percent truly undecided.With Democrats discouraged and Republicans energized, there is a GOP advantage, since it undoubtedly will get more voters to the polls. Energized voters vote because they think they can win.President Obama has approval and disapproval numbers in New Hampshire similar to the national numbers, and the economy is the most important issue.Smith said that Democrats’ emphasis on the health-care issue in Washington seemed to be the wrong issue to tackle politically, regardless of the merits and policy considerations. In New Hampshire, he indicated, polling showed that few voters were or are worried about health care. This emphasis on health care has had a dampening effect on Democrats’ popularity.*****Looking at specific races, Smith reported that Kelly Ayotte has a 38 percent favorable rating — far ahead of other Republican U.S. Senate candidates. In a theoretical match-up with Paul Hodes, the Democratic candidate, Ayotte beats Hodes, who only has a 34 percent rating.Among other candidates, Ovide Lamontagne has a 12 percent favorable rating and businessmen Jim Bender and Bill Binnie are virtually unknown at this point.In the 1st Congressional District, Carol Shea-Porter has a 35 percent favorable rating, and it is falling. Also, former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta’s favorable rating has been trending down, and the other likely candidates are not well enough known to have a rating, favorable or otherwise.Nevertheless, Shea-Porter gets only 32 to 33 percent of the vote against any GOP candidate, even one who is totally unknown.In the 2nd C.D., former Congressman Charlie Bass leads any Democrat, and his identification is high, as is his favorable rating. Smith indicates that that trend means that Bass will be well-positioned to regain that seat.The sole good news for Democrats in Smith’s analysis was that Governor Lynch, assumedly seeking a fourth term, still has a 60 percent favorable rating and, in fact, gets 17 percent of the GOP vote.For a Republican to win the governorship, he or she would have to get virtually all Republican votes as a base, so Smith indicates that, absent some shocking event, Governor Lynch seems poised to win another term.Republican John Stephen, recently announced candidate for Governor, does not register in name recognition yet.It should be an interesting year!Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.