The Tea Party movement is changing the face of American politics in 2010, with midterm elections shaping up as a referendum on the movement’s small government message versus President Obama's big government agenda.
The latest Fox News battleground polls show that despite broad support for the movement and its ideas, Tea Party-fueled Christine O’Donnell trails her opponent, Democrat Chris Coons, for U.S. Senate in Delaware.
The surveys are being conducted weekly until the election for Fox News by Pulse Opinion Research.
The latest surveys were conducted on Sept. 18 in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and California. Each survey included 1,000 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points for the total sample.
O'Donnell Faces Uphill Climb in Delaware
Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell begins a brief general election campaign season 15 points behind Democrat Chris Coons, according to a new Fox News poll.
Most difficult for the Tea Party-backed O'Donnell is how quickly voter attitudes have settled following a bitter primary with Republican Rep. Mike Castle and an unprecedented level of national attention to Delaware politics.
Fifty-four percent of likely voters favor Coons, while 39 percent back O’Donnell, with only 5 percent undecided (2 percent were committed to a minor party candidate).
O'Donnell's challenge comes from the fact that most voters say they are "certain" of their choice, including 91 percent of those who plan to vote for Coons and 85 percent who say they'll back O'Donnell.
With only 11 percent of voters considering themselves persuadable, O'Donnell will be hard pressed to close the gap.
Delaware has the highest level of "certain" voters of any of this week's battleground polls. In the Senate race in neighboring Pennsylvania -- where the competitors have been known since May and millions have been spent on television ads -- only 70 percent said they were "certain."
If Republicans had picked longtime Rep. Mike Castle, the survey shows Castle trouncing Coons by the same 15-point margin O'Donnell now trails -- 48 percent to 33 percent.
The good news for O'Donnell is that Delaware voters are receptive to her small government message. Only 42 percent disagreed with the statement: "The federal government has gotten totally out of control and threatens our basic liberties unless we clean house and commit to drastic change." A similar 41 percent said their vote will express opposition to the Tea Party movement.
Half of respondents favored repealing President Obama's national health care program and 53 percent favored "smaller government that provides fewer services." Obama's job approval rating clocks in at 45 percent -- 17 points lower than his showing in the 2008 election there.
O'Donnell's problem is in how the electorate sees her personally. While 59 percent of all respondents thought Coons is qualified to be a Senator, only 33 percent feel the same way about O'Donnell.
Reid's Washington Clout Little Help in Nevada
The Nevada contest between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle remains locked in a statistical tie for a second week, with Angle drawing 46 percent of likely voters compared to 45 percent for Reid.
Reid has been playing up his leadership role in Washington and using the campaign theme "no one can do more" to emphasize his ability to deliver for Nevada.
And while 20 percent of respondents said that Reid's power in Washington made them much more likely to support him, most did not care and many thought it was a minus. Thirty-six percent said it made no difference to them, and 25 percent said it made them much less likely to back Reid.
The problem may be the issues Reid has embraced in Washington. While Reid is pushing Congress to approve an amnesty provision for illegal immigrants who serve in the military or are enrolled in school, Nevada voters support a tough illegal immigration crackdown like the one in neighboring Arizona by a 31-point margin -- 60 percent to 29 percent.
Former state Senator Angle has defied expectations in the race since a Tea Party surge helped land her the GOP nomination in June. Now the battle for the remaining 7 percent of voters who say they could still change their minds will be ferocious.
Worrisome for Reid is the drop in the percentage of voters who say they will take advantage of Nevada's "none of these candidates" ballot option from 5 to 1 percent. Owing to Reid's low approval ratings – steady at 41 percent – his campaign is counting on driving unhappy voters away from Angle and toward splinter parties or "none."
Reid's focus on his clout in Washington also brings in some negative associations for many Nevada voters. Only 40 percent approve of the job Obama is doing, and 49 percent believe the president's policies have hurt the state's economy -- up three points from last week.
Fifty eight percent want smaller government, 67 percent classified themselves as angry at or dissatisfied with Washington, and 54 percent favor repealing the president’s national health care program.
However, the Tea Party movement that helped Angle win the nomination is proving deeply polarizing.
Twenty-five percent of respondents said their votes will show support for the Tea Party, while 27 percent says their votes will show opposition. But the strength of the opposition to the Tea Party is notable. Thirty-two percent strongly oppose the movement compared to 22 percent who strongly support it.
Brown Tied With Whitman for California Governor
Democrat Jerry Brown closed a 6-point gap in California’s gubernatorial contest with Republican Meg Whitman, according to the latest Fox News battleground poll.
Whitman lost 4 points and Brown gained 2 points to bring the race into a tie at 45 percent among likely voters since last week’s survey.
The campaigns have been engaged in an air assault for several weeks with negative ads dominating the airwaves. Whitman’s personal fortune, amassed as CEO of eBay, and the many outside groups backing Brown are contributing to what is on track to become the most expensive gubernatorial contest ever.
But Whitman’s fellow former tech CEO and Republican, Carly Fiorina, seems unaffected. She and incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer remain essentially tied. Fiorina gained 2 points to finish at 46 percent. Boxer bubbled up one point to finish at 47 percent.
While Boxer’s 41 percent approval rating may explain why she is having so much trouble getting elected to a fourth term, her performance may have something to do with slack support for Obama and his agenda.
Obama's California job approval rating slid 3 points to 45 percent. The percentage of voters who think Obama’s policies have hurt the state’s economy rose 2 points to 37 percent. Only 25 percent believe Obama’s policies have helped the state economically.
On immigration, 52 percent were in favor of an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration, compared to 40 percent who opposed such a measure. The Obama administration has successfully sued to block much of the law.
While 53 percent of Californians favor smaller government, voters are divided over the Tea Party movement. Forty-one percent are supportive, while 43 percent are opposed.
Democrats Unable to Lift Sestak in Pennsylvania Senate Race
Despite a concerted effort by national Democrats, Rep. Joe Sestak is slipping farther behind Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania’s Senate contest in a new Fox News battleground poll.
Sestak now trails by 8 points, with 40 percent to Toomey’s 48 percent. Sestak trailed by 6 points last week.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett enjoys a 10-point advantage over Democrat Dan Onorato for a second straight week, 49 percent to 39 percent.
Democratic leaders have been intently focused on the state, with a visit by Vice President Joe Biden coming just before the poll was taken Saturday. President Obama visited Monday in support of Sestak.
But Pennsylvania voters’ concerns seem mainly focused on the sluggish economy, a subject on which Obama does poorly.
Overall, the president garnered just a 37-percent approval rating, 3 points lower than last week. A consistent 41 percent believed Obama’s policies have hurt the state’s economy. Support for repealing the president’s national health care program, though, was down three points to 53 percent.
The Tea Party movement has broad support in the state. Forty-five percent are supportive of the movement while 35 percent are opposed. Thirty percent say their Senate vote will show support for the movement, while 26 percent say it will show their opposition.
Ohio Senate: GOP’s Portman Widens Lead
Republican Rob Portman is trouncing Democrat Lee Fisher by 13 points in the contest for an open Senate seat in Ohio, according to the latest Fox News battleground poll.
Portman stayed steady at 49 percent, but Fisher’s support dropped 5 points since last week’s survey, leaving him with only 36 percent.
In the contest between Democratic incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich, Strickland trails by 6 points, essentially unchanged from last week’s numbers.
Fisher’s faltering may owe to a barrage of ads that have linked him to the policies of Obama and Democrats in Washington. Obama’s approval dropped one point in the poll to 38 percent. Only 25 percent of voters believe Obama’s policies have helped the state’s economy, compared to 45 percent who believe they have done harm. Fifty-six percent favor repealing the president’s national health care program.
Eighty-six percent of respondents said Ohio’s economy was poor or “not so good.” Sixty-eight percent believe the economy will stay the same or get worse next year.
The Tea Party movement is generally popular in the state, with 24 percent strongly supportive and 21 percent somewhat supportive. Twenty-five percent were strongly opposed and 12 percent were somewhat opposed. Fifteen percent were neutral.