From: Dean Debnam and Tom Jensen, Public Policy Polling
To: Interested Parties
Subject: Democrats can win in 2012 by taking it to the Tea Party
Date: October 13th, 2011
Over the last few months Democrats in Wake County, North Carolina ran against the Tea Party in a strongly Republican leaning School Board district. And on Tuesday night they won, showing that the party might be able to have success in 2012 even on unfriendly turf by relentlessly hammering GOP candidates for their ties to an increasingly unpopular movement.
In 2009 Republicans gained a majority on the Wake County School Board in an election marked by complacency from Democratic voters and just 11% turnout. The new majority quickly moved to pursue policies that would have the effect of resegregating the school district, bringing enormous amounts of negative national media attention down on the county.
The actions of the School Board reawakened Democratic activists and created a sense of urgency about winning back a majority in 2011 but there was just one problem- doing that would require defeating the Board’s chairman, Ron Margiotta. His district is so heavily Republican- 42% GOP, 34% Democrats among regular voters- that he didn’t even draw an opponent when he won reelection to his 2nd term in 2007. It required an incredibly strong message to win his seat- and that message proved to be the Tea Party.
PPP found in September that 53% of voters in Margiotta’s R+8 district were less likely to vote for a Tea Party backed candidate, with only 24% considering that to be an asset for a candidate. It’s a given that Democrats recoil at the Tea Party label, but independents considered it a negative by a 51/20 margin and even 26% of Republican voters said they would be turned off of a candidate they knew had Tea Party ties.
A unified Democratic base wasn’t going to be enough for the party to win this seat- it would require a significant advantage with independents and a lot of crossover support from Republicans as well. The Wake County Democratic Party and the candidates themselves relentlessly hammered home to voters the message about Margiotta’s Tea Party ties. The result? A PPP poll the week before the election found Democratic endorsed candidate Susan Evans leading 48-43. She had a 51-34 advantage with independents and was taking 22% of the Republican vote. Those numbers held on right into election day and Evans won 52-48.
This was not a race where Democrats played nice- they took the fight to the Republican candidates and exploited their close ties to an increasingly unpopular Tea Party movement. And it worked, in a district where Democratic victory once seemed unimaginable. Democrats will more than likely take back the majority in a November 8th runoff election in a separate district where the party’s candidate won by 10 points yesterday, but fell short of an outright majority. And they did it by running against the Tea Party.
It’s a model Democratic candidates across the country should consider following in 2012. PPP polling in key swing states has consistently found that the Tea Party is very unpopular- its favorability is 41/49 in Florida, 40/46 in Missouri, 40/48 in North Carolina, 37/47 in Ohio, and 38/49 in Colorado, just to name a few. And even in red leaning states like Kentucky (40/46) and South Carolina (41/42) being associated with the Tea Party is not a good thing. It was a potent message for Democrats in Wake County Tuesday night. And it could be a potent message for Democrats everywhere across the country next year.
Full results of our final District 8 poll here