When analysis like this is actually better than what comes from most Republican consultants, it’s dispiriting to think that Democrats do not win nearly every election:
Many Republican strategists now see this as a parallel dynamic similar to what the Iraq War issue did in 2006 to President Bush’s job approval, costing the Republicans their Senate and House majorities. That year, Democrats for the House got 54 percent of the national vote. Here’s what the 2006 national media post-election survey showed:
42 percent approved of the Iraq War and 56 percent disapproved.
If you disapproved of the war in Iraq, you voted for Democrats for Congress 80–18.
If you disapproved of the job President Bush was doing, you voted for Democrats for Congress 82–16.
The Democrats’ 2006 strategy was simple: Drive up the disapproval of the Iraq War, which drove up President Bush’s disapproval, which drove up the vote for Democrats for Congress. [Emphasis added]
The authors go on to argue that the situation isn’t quite parallel, and that Republicans can’t count on opposition to Obamacare to be the GOP’s silver bullet. That much is true, since approval/disapproval of the ACA has been fairly static, and three times as many people want to keep the ACA as want to repeal it and go back to the way things were. But the authors have a bizarre view of the relationship between rhetoric and reality, and what influences people’s votes.
In 2006 Democrats didn’t win big because they drove up disapproval of the Iraq War. They won big because they blamed Republicans for supporting what by then was an obviously failed war. Gallup polls during and immediately after the invasion showed a 50 point margin for belief that it was not a mistake to go to war against Iraq. Once US soldiers began taking significant casualties in the fall of 2003 that margin plunged 30 points, to roughly +20 in favor of going to war. By late 2004 the margin was down to roughly +5. And by the run up to the 2006 election support for the decision to go to war plummeted to -15. From 2003, disapproval of going to war had doubled, from 27% disapproving the decision to 55% thinking the war had been a mistake.
What explains that massive shift from overwhelming support to solid opposition? The McLaughlins appear to think it was something the Democrats did. That does not hold up, for two reasons. First, full-throated Democratic opposition to the war didn’t lead public opinion beyond the Democratic base, it followed it. Presidential candidate John Kerry danced around Iraq in 2004, and in 2004 few Democrats in competitive races had opposed the war, or if they had, their messaging on Iraq was defensive, rather than an attack on their opponent for supporting Bush’s war. Even in early 2006, most highly-touted Democratic Congressional candidates challenging pro-war Republicans were timid in their criticism of the Iraq war.
What changed public opinion about the war was not what Democrats said about it, it was the war itself. Most who supported the war bought the story pitched by Bush and the neocons, that it would be a quick war, and then Arab democracy would flourish across the Middle East. But US casualties never came down:
And it was not just US casualties that soured Americans on the Iraq debacle, it was that things in Iraq looked in some ways even worse than before the invasion. What got to voters were the daily reports of rampant killing in Central Iraq, in particular the “religious cleansing” of Baghdad, which hit a peak right before the 2006 election:
Claiming what drove up Bush’s negatives was Democrats driving up disapproval of the war is dumb, and it’s also insulting to American voters. Voters are often ill-informed, and can often succumb to clever campaigns of deception, like the Iraq WMD story. But after a while, if they’re confronted with a reality that is hard to deny, most voters will incorporate that reality in to their beliefs and–sometimes–their voting behavior. In 2006 a lot of Americans saw that large numbers of US soldiers were still being maimed and killed in Iraq, and that things in Iraq had gotten horribly worse. Only a third of independents believed the US would succeed in Iraq. Those voters realized that the Iraq war had been a disaster, so they voted against the Republicans. Democrats didn’t win big in 2006 because of turnout–Democrats were 38% of the electorate, Republicans 36%–but because of an 18 point advantage among independents. [Incidentally, in 2010 Republicans won independents by 19 points.]
Iraq didn’t hurt Bush because Democrats succeeded at convincing voters of their illusions at the expense of Republican illusions. No, Iraq hurt Bush and his fellow Republicans because Iraq fell apart, and with it the rationale for the invasion and occupation. It was obviously a failure. To think it was spin over reality appears to be a problem rampant not only among the GOP primary electorate, but a good many of its consultants and strategists as well.