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Going Negative in November — Can it Win for the GOP?

by Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center
Special to the Washington Post

In its Topic A feature for Sunday April 4, 2010, the Washington Post asked several experts  whether the Republican Party would win in November with a negative strategy. Here is Scott Keeter’s reply. Mr. Keeter is vice president/president-elect of the American Association of Public Opinion Research.

However one characterizes the Republican Party’s strategy, there’s no indication right now that it is hurting them politically. Congressional trial heat polls show the GOP at parity with the Democrats. Polls asking which party could do a better job on important issues have found the Republicans matching or gaining ground on the Democrats on handling the economy, health care and the deficit. And Republicans are more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting this year.

All of this has led to speculation that the GOP might make large gains this fall, perhaps comparable to those in 1994. But there are important differences between 2010 and 1994.

One is that the overall image of the Republican Party is considerably more negative now (46% favorable) than it was in 1994 (63% favorable). Similarly, fewer people now than in 1994 say that the Republican Party is doing a good job of offering solutions to the country’s problems (29% now, 41% in 1994.

Of course, economic conditions are much worse than in 1994. This makes the fall election more of a referendum on the incumbent party than a choice between Democratic and Republican ideas. If the economy rallies, what the GOP offers and how the party is viewed are likely to become more important to voters.

See other responses to the Washington Post‘s Topic A query by Christine Todd Whitman, Martin Frost, Newt Gingrich, Mark Penn, Heather Wilson and Dana Perino here.

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