Incumbents who are accustomed to success at the ballot box are generally nervous and watchful of potential electoral trends by their very nature. They know that this week’s teapot can become next week’s tempest and the spate of recent “change elections” has proven that incumbency is anything but a guarantee of lifetime employment in the U.S. Congress.
While the outcome of individual races can be predicted with a high rate success using modern opinion research tools, it remains a much more daunting task to determine national or even regional trends.
Overall congressional approval ratings and generic ballot test questions become virtually meaningless in the effort to determine trends in congressional races because each race is run locally rather than nationally. The old political saw that says, “The Congress is composed of 434 scoundrels and ‘my guy'” still holds sway more often than not.
However, there is one national indicator to which incumbent politicians should pay close attention, particularly in a presidential election year such as 2012. The well-tested “right track/wrong track indicator” has been a largely reliable indicator of incumbent satisfaction/dissatisfaction and next year is likely to be no exception.
The alarming news for incumbents planning to face the voters again in 2012 is that as of last week, only 16 percent of likely U.S. voters say that the country is heading in the right direction, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken the week ending Sunday, Oct. 23.
The latest finding is up a point from the previous week, but down a point from a month ago and down a whopping 16 points from this time last year.
Since mid-July, the number of voters who feel the nation is headed in the “right direction” has virtually mirrored the levels measured in the final months of the administration of George W. Bush, with voter confidence bobbing slightly up and down in the narrow range of 14 percent to 19 percent.
Perhaps even more disturbing news for incumbents is the fact that the “wrong track” number in last week’s Rasmussen survey was 77 percent. Since mid-July, the “wrong track” has stayed in the 75- to 80-percent range. When the ratio of likely voters who think that the nation is on the “wrong track” and is not moving in the “right direction” is nearly 5 to 1, that is a reliable sign that voters are planning to make big changes on Election Day.