Things are, by every measure, looking terrible for Democrats in New York's 9th district, where voters will decide on Anthony Weiner's replacement this Tuesday. Despite the seat's 3:1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans, David Weprin trails GOP nominee Bob Turner 50-44 in the latest poll from Siena University. But the reasons why may not be what you think.
According to Siena pollster Steven Greenberg, Weprin's biggest problem is holding onto Democrats and Independents, which accounts for his lousy numbers in what should be a safe Democratic seat. After all, in the 2008 Presidential election, the district went for Obama over McCain by 55-44. Currently, though, while Turner wins 90% of Republicans and Weprin 6%, only 62% of Democrats are backing Weprin versus 32% who are defecting to Turner. Meanwhile, Independents are breaking for Turner big time: he leads 65-27. A month ago, that number was only in his favor 46-42.
"I think they have a mini-perfect storm going on here," Greenberg told TPM.
There are two major factors behind Turner's lead, according to Greenberg's polling. The local factor being Weprin's relative unpopularity, and the national factor being President Obama's weak standing in the district given voters' dismal outlook on the economy.
According to Siena's numbers, Weprin's favorability numbers are at 41-41, versus a friendly 48-34 rating for Turner. Another stat that reflects the dynamic: voters think Turner is running the more positive campaign by a 43-32 margin. And that's the guy who ran an ad juxtaposing the World Trade Center attack, a mosque, and President Obama.
But given that Weprin isn't exactly a larger than life political personality, the latter may be doing plenty to inform voters' views on the former - Democratic pollster PPP's field research, still unfinished, is finding that national issues are dominant so far in explaining Democrats' troubles.
"The eye popping number for me is that we may have Obama's approval number as low as the 30s," PPP polling director Tom Jensen told TPM. "It's hard for Democrats to win open seat races in places where Obama's that unpopular. Obama's at 50%, I have no doubt Weprin beats Turner comfortably."
Siena's numbers show plenty of similar problems for Democrats as well. They put Obama's approval rating underwater at 43-54, but what really stands out for Greenberg is voters' overall take on the economy.
"Nearly three qarters of voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction," he said. "They're angry about whats going on, they're frustrated about the economy and jobs situation, and they're angry at Washington," he said. "Couple that with the local campaign, where voters think Turner is doing a better job, and it all comes together."
One surprise in Siena's polling, however, is the relative importance of Israel to the race. Turner has made it an absolutely critical issue for his campaign, slamming Obama's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at every turn in an effort to win over Jewish voters in the district. Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, has a similar position on Israel but Turner has argued that unless he breaks with Obama entirely and refuses to endorse him, he's still tainted.
But according to the numbers, it may be less of a factor than it seems.
"I don't see it at all," Greenberg said, when asked about the "Israel effect."
Siena asked voters to pick from five options to explain their vote, including the candidate's party, position on Social Security and Medicare, whether they were endorsed by a trusted source, their position on economic issues, and finally their position on Israel. Only 7% of voters picked Israel, including just 16% of Jewish voters.
That may not be the whole story, however: Weprin's lead with Jewish voters has collapsed from 21 to 6 in the last month. It's roughly in line with the total 12% drop among voters overall, but may be more complicated to tease out. Jensen, for his part, doesn't want to make any conclusions on the Israel issue without seeing more detailed results first.