Above all else, the coming election is about ObamaCare.
Democrats wish it were about the economy. Polls show that voters still blame the downturn more on President George W. Bush than on President Obama or the Democratic Congress. Sure, the Democrats haven't turned the economy around, but things also haven't gotten markedly worse. How could they face historic losses over an economic situation that voters think they inherited more than they created?
It's this point -- sensible in a vacuum -- that presumably has led The New York Times to maintain across months -- and as late as last week -- that if House races simply kept leaning the way they were leaning, the Democrats would hold Congress. The Times' prognosticators couldn't fathom why anything else would so anger voters, so they assumed that the Democrats would survive.
That was a fantasy. The Democrats have lost independents. The latest Rasmussen generic congressional-ballot poll shows independents favoring Republicans over Democrats by (gulp) 17 percentage points. And Republicans are motivated, while Democrats aren't. According to American University researcher Curtis Gans, in this year's primaries, GOP turnout surpassed Democratic turnout for the first time since the Hoover administration -- and by a wide margin: 57 percent to 43 percent.
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What could be generating such a historic enthusiasm gap between the parties while also causing so many independents to jump ship from the Democrats? Federal spending, federal debt, federal indifference to popular desires -- all of which is captured in one word: ObamaCare.
The evidence is clear. Look at House districts where you'd expect a Democrat to be vulnerable -- districts that, based on results in the last three presidential elections, lean Republican or lean Democratic by no more than 5 percentage points. In 48 such districts where polls are available, a Democrat is running for re-election.
Based on the Real Clear Politics averages for those polls, Democrats who voted against ObamaCare are now ahead in 10 of 15 races (leading by an average of 5.5 percentage points) while Democrats who voted for ObamaCare lead in just 9 of 33 races (losing by an average of 2.5 points).
So even though more than twice as many pro-ObamaCare Democrats are running in these districts, more anti-ObamaCare Democrats are winning.
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And that's even though Democrats who opposed ObamaCare are running where it's much harder for a Democrat to win. Among these 48, the Dems who voted for ObamaCare are running in districts that are far friendlier, averaging only +4 Republican, while the average anti-ObamaCare Democrat faces a district that's +13 Republican.
None of this can be explained by the economy or by other controversial votes. Essentially, all of these Democrats (45 of 48) supported the economic "stimulus." And the 30 who voted for cap and trade are winning in 40 percent of their races, while the 18 who voted against it are winning in 44 percent of their races -- essentially no difference and a far cry from the split we see with ObamaCare.
The campaigns have figured this out. Politico reported last month that candidates were spending seven times as much on ads attacking ObamaCare as on ads defending it -- and even Democratic campaigns' ads were 3-to-1 against. By the first half of this month, the overall ratio had swung to 20 to 1.
Two unique polls further substantiate what's going on here. An Independent Women's Voice poll asked independents whether any issue would keep them from supporting candidates with whom they agree "on all other issues." Among the choices were "national security," "taxes," "immigration," "putting a mosque near Ground Zero" and "the stimulus and bailouts." The issue that voters most strongly demanded that candidates get right was "health-care reform." (The Ground Zero mosque was second.)
Moreover, a Democratic poll offered respondents the unusual chance to provide open-ended responses indicating why they disapprove of Obama's performance. Their freely chosen words were then tallied. "Economy" and "money" were among the key words frequently used, but the two most frequent -- used more than twice as often as any others -- were "health care."
Even when voters emphasize the economy, they generally do so in a way that very much involves ObamaCare. Voters aren't so much angry that their representatives haven't fixed the economy but that they haven't prioritized the economy -- that they passed a $787 billion "stimulus" that merely stimulated the National Debt Clock and then turned their attention to what they cared about most: passing a huge health-care entitlement that a clear majority of Americans opposed.
Now the voters will get to make their priorities known to the Democrats who thought they could get away with openly defying their constituents' wishes.