MSNBC/WSJ Poll Reveals Gloomy, Pessimistic Electorate

According to a new MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the public that will head to the polls in November is increasingly gloomy and pessimistic.

A new MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll reveals a public that is gloomy about the economy, turning against the war in Afghanistan, disappointed in the President, and generally pessimistic about the future:

Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy and the war in Afghanistan, and are losing faith that Democrats have better solutions than Republicans, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Underpinning the gloom: Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the economy has yet to hit bottom, a sharply higher percentage than the 53% who felt that way in January.

The sour national mood appears all-encompassing and is dragging down ratings for the GOP too, suggesting voters above all are disenchanted with the political establishment in Washington. Just 24% express positive feelings about the Republican Party, a new low in the 21-year history of the Journal’s survey. Democrats are only slightly more popular, but also near an all-time low.o


As in recent polls, Americans are split on President Barack Obama’s job performance, with 47% approving and 48% disapproving. But a majority disapproves of his performance on the economy. And six in 10, including 83% of independents and a quarter of Democrats, say they are only somewhat or not at all confident that Mr. Obama has the right policies to improve it.

The survey suggests that Democrats should expect little if any appreciation from voters for legislative achievements such as overhauling the health care and financial systems. Six in 10 Americans rated Congress’ performance this year as below average or one of the worst. And the economy is dominating voters’ worries. Among those who believe the economy will get worse over the next year, 67% want a GOP-led Congress.


On the Afghanistan war, which had been an area of strength for the president since he revamped his military strategy, 68% of Americans now feel less confident the war will come to a successful conclusion. Just 44% approve of the president’s job on Afghanistan, down from a majority who approved in March, the last time the poll

There really isn’t any good news in this poll for anyone.

On the economy, for example, the fact that the public feels like things will get worse could turn into a self-fulling prophecy. People who think there’s going to be an economy downturn, or that their job or their house is in danger, are going to be less likely to engage in the kind of consumer spending that is needed to help turn the economy around, and small business owners who feel the same way are unlikely to engage in the investment and new hiring that we need to start turning the employment figures around. There are very few things in life where the phrase “wishing makes it so” is at least partly true, but economics is one of them, and a public who thinks the bottom could fall out at any moment is not a good thing.

Politically, it’s less clear what this means for the upcoming elections. The public is dissatisfied with the President’s performance, especially on the economy, they’re dissatisfied nearly equally with the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and they’re unclear about who they want to control Congress after November:

Voters appear evenly split on which party they hope will control Congress after November. But Republicans retain an advantage among those more likely to turn out. Among those most interested in the election, half favor GOP control and 39% support the Democrats. One positive movement for Democrats: That 11-point gap is down from 21 points in June.

Democrats and the president retain strong approval among minorities. But they are losing some groups that helped the party take control of Congress in 2006, particularly working-class whites. Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress.

Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.

“The Republicans don’t have a message as to why people should vote for them, but it’s pretty clear why you shouldn’t vote for the Democrats,” said poll respondent Tim Krsak,

What impact all of this has on the elections depends on several factors, including whether this mood continues through November and whether that leads people to come to the polls and “vote the bums out,” or to stay home because they don’t think it matters who they vote for.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    I’m ready to call double-dip.
    I think Krugman was right in the sense that ‘I think we’re going to need a bigger stimulus’ (Jaws reference) but his foes were correct to worry if we could really afford one.
    So now the stimulus gave us a respite, and maybe softened the landing, but we still some some ‘creative destruction’ to endure.

  2. john personna says:

    Ah, an interesting argument, but don’t expect the US commentariat to properly digest it:

    Low public debt requires a generous welfare state. This sounds paradoxical. But it’s not.

    In Fault Lines, Raghuram Rajan says that one reason why the US engages in big Keynesian counter-cyclical policy is precisely that it has a weak welfare state.

    Get that?  It is because we are not socialist enough that we must resort to stimulus spending.

  3. Tano says:

    “But Republicans retain an advantage among those more likely to turn out.”
    But will it help the bottom line? If turnout is unusually high in districts that are safe Republican, and relatively low in districts that are safe Democratic, then the results may not be any different.
    For example; ” “The GOP has a HUGE generic-ballot edge in the South (52%-31%), but it doesn’t lead anywhere else. In the Northeast, Dems have a 55%-30% edge; in the Midwest, they lead 49%-38%; and in the West, it’s 44%-43%.”
    So if all this enthusiasm gap, and the fact that the GOP is even with the Dems in overall preference, if all that is accounted for by the fact that Southern Republicans are hyped-up, then maybe the calculation of GOP gains nationwide is illusory.