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First Thoughts: Democrats' Messaging Running on Empty

Image: Obama Delivers State of Union to Congress

epa04046124 The dome of the US Capitol is visible at dusk in Washington DC, USA, 28 January 2014. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO JIM LO SCALZO / EPA

Running on empty? What midterm message will inspire Democrats to vote in November?... NBC/WSJ poll: Christie has net-negative rating with his OWN party… Hillary’s overall numbers also have dropped (though not as dramatically)… Also in the NBC/WSJ poll: 60% of Catholics say Pope Francis has renewed their faith and commitment in the Catholic Church… But poll also shows that21% of all respondents say religion DOES NOT play that important of a role in their lives -- the highest percentage ever in the poll... And Pot Nation: NBC/WSJ poll shows Americans think marijuana is less harmful than tobacco, alcohol, and even sugar.

Running on empty?

Democrats don’t believe they lost Tuesday’s special congressional election in Florida because of President Obama or the health-care law. The reason they lost it, they argue, is because their side didn’t turn out to vote. “In FL-13 special, 49k fewer voted than in 2010 general (-21%), and 158.5k fewer than 2012 (-46%). Addressing the Dem drop off is key for Nov,” Alex Sink pollster Geoff Garin tweeted yesterday. But here’s the fundamental question for Democrats: What do they run to get their folks to the ballot box? What inspires them? Right now, they don’t seem to have a message that galvanizes their voters, especially in a midterm election. According to our NBC/WSJ poll, 88% of Democrats say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the minimum wage, and 75% are more likely to vote for someone who supports fixing and keeping the health-care law. But it’s hard to imagine Democrats are going to flood the polls in November screaming, “WE WANT TO FIX AND KEEP THE HEALTH-CARE LAW!” especially when the Obama White House isn’t screaming that message every day. We know what galvanizes Republicans -- it’s repealing the health-care law, it’s President Obama, and it’s cutting spending. That explains why Republicans had such an easy time getting their voters to the polls Tuesday. What inspires Democrats? Of course, they could -- and will -- run on a message against congressional Republicans. Then again, that was essentially their message in 2012. But what FL-13 exposed is that Democrats don’t have an affirmative message that is sticky with the Democratic base or even casual Democratic voters. They have figured out how to deal with health care, but that’s not enough to actually inspire their own side.

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Your 2016 Fix

Christie’s decline hasn’t stopped:: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finds himself in the unenviable position where his poll numbers are now upside down with -- get this -- REPUBLICANS, according to the latest NBC/WSJ survey. Just 23% of GOP respondents in the poll have a positive view of Christie, versus 29% who have a negative view. In our previous poll in January, Christie was in positive territory with a 32%-20% score. Christie also is now underwater among Northeast respondents (28%-35% -- when it was 31%-30% in January), and he’s upside down with conservatives (22%-26% -- when it was 27%-20% two months ago). Overall, Christie’s fav/unfav score is 17%-32%. The scandals hitting his administration first hurt his crossover appeal among Democrats and independents, and now they’ve hurt him with his own party. Folks, when is the last time someone viewed as a presidential contender had a net-negative rating WITH HIS OWN PARTY? Yes, it’s possible Christie can recover; you never say never in politics. But Christie’s prospects right now are much worse than some in the political community realize. And that’s before all the investigations into his administration run their full course.

Hillary’s numbers also have dropped (though not as dramatically)

Hillary Clinton’s numbers also dropped in our NBC/WSJ poll, though not as dramatically as Christie’s. Her fav/unfav rating stands at 44%-34%, down from 51%-31% back in September. That decline appears to come from whites (who are now 39%-40% after being 46%-36% in September), men (33%-40% down from 44%-37%), and Midwest residents (35%-43% after being 48%-31%). This is what happens when you’re viewed more as a politician than as a statesman or stateswoman, as all the presidential speculation has done with Hillary. Her ace in the hole right now? Women view her positively, 55%-29%. By the way, her husband Bill Clinton is the most popular political figure in our poll with a fav/unfav of 55%-24% (Only the Pope has a better fav/unfav rating). The biggest difference between Bill’s numbers and Hillary’s -- independents view Bill favorably by a 62%-20% margin, while Hillary is viewed 28%-35% by this group.

Not believing Christie or Hillary

Speaking of both Christie and Hillary Clinton, a new Bloomberg national poll finds this: “Sixty-three percent say they don’t believe the New Jersey governor’s claims that he knew nothing of a plan by his top aides to create a politically motivated traffic jam… More than half say they don’t believe Clinton, the former secretary of state, when she says she never saw requests for more security before the 2012 attack at a U.S. diplomatic compound that resulted in four American deaths in Libya.” Also from the poll: “Clinton’s favorability rating has declined to 56 percent from a Bloomberg poll high of 70 percent in December 2012, a month before she clashed with Republicans at a Senate hearing on the events that sparked the attack in Benghazi, Libya. Christie’s popularity fell to 32 percent from 50 percent in June.”

60% of Catholics say Pope Francis has renewed their faith and commitment in the Catholic Church

Today is the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as pope, and our new NBC/WSJ poll has some striking numbers on him: Six-in-10 Catholics “agreed that the pope has ‘renewed and strengthened my religious faith and commitment to the Catholic Church.’ Three-in-10 disagreed,” NBC’s Carrie Dann writes. “The poll also reinforced the pope’s overall popularity in the United States. Fifty-five percent of adults say they have a ‘somewhat positive” (22%) or “very positive” (33%) view of the man previously known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Only seven percent give him a negative rating, with another quarter of respondents saying they’re neutral.

Gotta have faith.

Or not? But maybe the most striking finding on religion in our poll is this: 21% say religion DOES NOT play that important of a role in their lives, which the highest percentage here since the NBC/WSJ poll began asking this question in 1997. That’s one in five Americans. (By comparison, 13% said religion is the single-most important thing, 41% said religion was very important, and another 25% said it’s somewhat important.) Who are these 21% who say religion isn’t that important? They’re more likely to be men, wealthy, liberals, urban residents, and those ages 18-34. This group is bigger than it was in 1999 (when 16% said religion wasn’t that important) and 1997 (when 14% said that).

Pot Nation

Finally, don’t miss this from our NBC/WSJ poll: Only 8% of respondents said marijuana was the MOST harmful substance to a person’s overall health -- less than tobacco (49%), alcohol (24%), and sugar (15%).

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