Today Show's Poll Predicts 'Perfect Storm' To Wash Out GOP

Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer and Tim Russert were so excited to announce the "perfect storm" of negative poll numbers for the GOP that they couldn't wait to report it. On this morning's Today show viewers were greeted with these first words out of Vieira's mouth:

Vieira: "Good morning, poll plunge. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that huge numbers of Americans are losing faith over the war in Iraq and the news isn't any better for Republicans in Congress."

Then right after Today's theme music played Lauer and Viera jumped right back poll:

Matt Lauer: "This new poll shows a startling drop in public confidence when it comes to the war in Iraq. It's down 24 percentage points since June of this year and these are numbers that Republicans are gonna find very troubling. We're gonna talk to Tim Russert about that and some other poll numbers in just a minute."

Vieira: "They are the lowest numbers, I think this poll has ever reported."

Lauer: "In the history of the poll."

Vieira: "Absolutely."

Then after a quick rundown of upcoming stories Today jumped to an eager Tim Russert as he and Matt predicted a "Level 5," "perfect storm" was about to wash out the Republicans.

The following is the entire exchange between Lauer and Russert at the top of the October 19th, Today show:

Matt Lauer: "But first let's talk about these midterm elections. Only 19 days away and that new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll could mean some big trouble for the Republicans. Are they going to lose their grip on power? Tim Russert is NBC's Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press. Hey Tim, good morning to you."

Tim Russert: "Good morning, Matt."

Lauer: "Before I get to specific poll numbers there seems to be an almost perfect storm brewing here. You've got Iraq boiling over. As a matter of fact October is shaping up to be the deadliest month for U.S. troops in that war in two years. You've got North Korea flexing its nuclear muscle, you've got the Foley scandal. How hard's it gonna be for the Republicans to hang on to power?"

Russert: "Very difficult based on everyone I've talked to Matt and 'boiling over,' is exactly the right analogy. That's how one Republican said to me yesterday. It's a big pot and you dump in a little bit of Iraq, you dump in North Korea, you dump in Iran, you dump in the Jack Abramoff lobbyist scandal, you dump in the Mark Foley scandal. He said, 'It just boils over,' and it's that level of anxiety that is hurting the Republicans less than three weeks before the election."

Lauer: "Let's talk about the poll numbers. President Bush's approval rating has gone down a point since last month. That's not a huge drop but his job approval rating on handling the war in Iraq is down five points in the last month. Is Iraq, issue number one when it comes to people going to the voting booth?"

Russert: "Absolutely. People keep coming back to it Matt. In fact on the economy the President's approval has gone up but it's Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And people's anxiety is enormous. They don't see what, 'stay the course,' means. They don't understand the strategy, they don't understand, they're starting to question exactly what our mission is."

Lauer: "Let's get to these numbers that are, in my opinion, somewhat startling. According to the poll the American public's optimism about the war in Iraq has plunged 24 percentage points since June of this year. Now as you just said at a time when they're being asked to 'stay the course,' if they've lost hope in that war, you know, then how do they go about staying the course?"

Russert: "That's the challenge for the President and for the Republicans. The American people hear the news each and every day as to what is going on in the ground in New York, in, in Iraq and they're wondering, exactly, what this means for the country. They no longer believe that Iraq, the war is beneficial to the overall war on terror, which is the fundamental premise of the Bush strategy."

Lauer: "But Tim let me interrupt. Have they, the poll doesn't ask these voters if they've heard a better option from the Democrats. The Democrats have talked about redeploying troops to other roles in Iraq but have they given the voters enough to chew on to throw the party in power out?"

Russert: "That was the big unanswered question and our pollsters had the following answer, Matt. That the Democrats have become marginally acceptable. That people do not know of a concrete Democratic proposal but the frustration is so high they're willing to say, at this point, 'Let's try something else.'"

Lauer: "Alright on the question of who should control Congress? Back to our poll, 52 percent said Democrats, 37 percent said Republicans. It's a 15 point spread, Tim, and it's jumped from nine points last month. Just a couple of important points. The 15 point spread is the largest for any party in the history of this poll and an important point to make, Tim. Asked about their approval of Congress overall, so Republicans and Democrats, people in the poll gave it just a 16 percent approval rating. So they're saying, 'Hey I'm not really thrilled with either party.'"

Russert: "Matt put this in context. When the Republicans took control in 1994, the so-called Republican Revolution, disapproval in Congress was 67 percent. Today it's 75. And in that generic question you ask, 'Which party do you want to take control?' The Democrats today have a 15 point advantage, back in November of '94 the Republicans had just a plus six. So this storm seems to be much more of a level 5 than what we saw in '94. The difference is they're aren't as many competitive seats at stake but nonetheless right now a wave seems to be building."

Lauer: "Alright, Tim Russert in Washington with the new poll numbers from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. Tim, thanks very much."

Russert: "Thanks Matt."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.