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Change Constituency Continues to Grow

by Ruy Teixeira

SurveyUSA recently released a set of fifty statewide surveys that show just how large the constituency for change is becoming. In each state, these surveys asked “In general, do you think the country is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” When combined and weighted by population, these surveys indicate that, nationwide, just 29 percent of adults think the country is going in the right direction and 66 percent think it is going in the wrong direction. But it is the state-by-state results that provide the really interesting findings. As the SurveyUSA report notes:

In not a single state do 50 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In only five states (Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska) do 40 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In twenty-five states, fewer than 30 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

There is also not one state where there is a net positive (right direction minus wrong direction) result on this question. And in every state that was even remotely contested in the 2004 election, there is now a strong net negative result on the question, indicating a big constituency for change. These include Colorado (61 percent wrong direction, –25 net result), New Mexico, (61 percent wrong direction, –27 net result), Arizona (63 percent wrong direction, –31 net result), Nevada (64 percent wrong direction, –31 net result), Florida (63 percent wrong direction, –31 net result), Virginia (65 percent wrong direction, –34 net result), New Hampshire (66 percent wrong direction, –37 net result), Washington (66 percent wrong direction, –38 net result), Minnesota (67 percent wrong direction, –38 net result), Missouri (67 percent wrong direction, –38 net result), Ohio (69 percent wrong direction, –41 net result), Wisconsin (69 percent wrong direction, –41 net result), Oregon (68 percent wrong direction, –42 net result), Pennsylvania (69 percent wrong direction, –43 net result), West Virginia (69 percent wrong direction, –43 net result), Iowa (70 percent wrong direction, –44 net result), and Michigan (74 percent wrong direction, –51 net result).

That’s a lot of people wanting a lot of change. How can these change figures be so high? A good part of the reason, as I discussed last week, is the sudden appetite for change among groups that used to be staunch supporters of the administration. The SurveyUSA report provides these changes in net result among men in various states on the right direction/wrong direction question since July of this year.

Wyoming From +12 to –12 (24-point swing) Idaho From +12 to –11 (23-point swing) Hawaii From +3 to –16 (19-point swing) Nebraska From +3 to –8 (11-point swing) Utah From +5 to –5 (10-point swing) North Dakota From Net Zero to –10 (10-point swing) Oklahoma From +1 to –9 (10-point swing) Louisiana From +1 to –24 (25-point swing)

And here are changes in net result among conservatives in various states:

Maine From +18 to –25 (43-point swing) Massachusetts From +18 to –13 (31-point swing) West Virginia From +14 to –16 (30-point swing) Iowa From +20 to –9 (29-point swing) Michigan From +16 to –7 (23-point swing) New York From +7 to –15 (22-point swing) Vermont From +9 to –11 (20-point swing) Pennsylvania From +11 to –8 (19-point swing)

Sharp-eyed consumers of poll data might wonder if these very negative results could be traced in some way to the slightly different question wording used by SurveyUSA (right direction/wrong direction) as compared to the standard direction of the country wording (right direction/wrong track). This is doubtful. Recall that the overall national number from these SurveyUSA polls is 29 percent right direction/66 percent wrong direction. That’s very close to two other recent polls that asked this question in its traditional right direction/wrong track format: NBC News/Wall Street Journal (29 percent right direction/59 percent wrong tracks; and Hotline/Diageo (26 percent right direction/60 percent wrong track).

So it doesn’t much matter how exactly you ask the question: the answer is firm and unambiguous—the public thinks we’re headed in the wrong direction and is looking for change. And it is particularly looking for change in the states that were in the balance in 2004. That could make for a very interesting election in 2006.