At End of 2010 Cycle, Frustration Still on the Boil

Nov 1, 2010 7:00am

The 2010 election cycle comes to an end with public frustration still on the boil.

The ABC News Frustration Index stands at 67 on its scale of 0 to 100 – hot enough to put the in-power party in considerable peril. The index is higher now than it was either in 1994, when the Republicans last took control of the House, or 2006, when the Democrats took it back.

The Frustration Index is based on public ratings of the economy and the president’s job performance, anti-incumbency sentiment and dissatisfaction with the way the government’s operating. It correlates strongly with House re-election rates and the loss or gain of seats by the president’s party in midterm elections.

The index peaked at a mighty 80 in 2008, when the Democrats regained the White House; its previous high was 73 in summer 1992, shortly before the first President Bush lost re-election, also in a time of broad economic discontent.

It could be worse for the Democrats this year; the Frustration Index for 2010 peaked at 72 in September, compared to 67 today. That’s a pattern seen before: It also eased just a bit by Election Day in 1992 and 1994 alike. 

That said, it’s been this high or higher in seven readings this year – 67 five times, 68 once and 72 once. And all are high.

For change elections, the index was 68 at the time of the 1992 vote, 59 in 1994, 62 in 2006 and 80 in 2008. Compare those to its levels when incumbents or incumbent parties held their ground: 53 in 1996, 44 in 1998 and 2000 and 53 in 2002. It was 58 in 2004.

The Frustration Index has strong partisan and ideological components. It’s 88 among “strong” supporters of the Tea Party political movement, 87 among conservative Republicans and 86 among people who voted for John McCain in 2008. Those compare with an index of 53 among Obama voters, and 52 among all Democrats as well as core Democratic groups such as non-whites and liberals.

Indeed the slight shift in frustration from September has come among groups where it may matter less – an 8-point improvement among liberals Democrats, to 44, and 6 points among all liberals, to 52. Among the more frustrated groups – many of which express higher intention to vote – the index hasn’t budged.

Click here for our full poll analysis.

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