House ripe for Republican takeover, latest polls find

Voter dissatisfaction with the federal government is at an 18-year high as campaign season officially kicks off. Democrats are fighting discouragement, while Republicans try to temper expectations.

Just when the Democrats thought the polls couldn’t get any worse, they have.

Voter dissatisfaction with the federal government has reached its highest level in 18 years, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. And likely voters say that in their districts, they favor the Republican over the Democrat for Congress by a margin of 53 to 40 percent, the highest generic GOP House lead in the ABC/Post post poll since 1981.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds a similar result. By a margin of 49 to 40 percent, likely voters say they want Republicans to take control of Congress. And discouragement over the economy, after what the White House said would be “recovery summer,” has only grown. Only 26 percent of voters say the economy will get better in the next 12 months, versus 40 percent who held that view in May.

Republicans are trying to keep their glee to a dull roar, lest they raise expectations unrealistically heading into the Nov. 2 midterms. But at this point, anything less than a takeover of the House will be seen as falling short, as nonpartisan handicappers up their predictions. Stuart Rothenberg now says the GOP will gain 37 to 42 seats – numbers that straddle the 39-seat net gain Republicans need to win the majority. Mr. Rothenberg adds that “substantially larger Republican gains” of 45 to 55 seats are quite possible. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia now predicts a GOP pickup of 47 seats. The Cook Political Report foresees a Republican gain of at least 40 seats, and “very possibly substantially more.”

In short, the Republicans could beat the blowout of 1994, when they scored a net gain of 54 seats in the House. Now that Labor Day is behind us, campaign season has formally begun. Anyone who does not like negative ads should brace themselves.

“The next few weeks will be crucial, as Democratic incumbents seek to drive up Republican challengers’ negatives and strengthen their standing in ballot tests,” writes Stu Rothenberg in his online report.

Aside from driving up GOP negatives, Democrats will be fighting hard against discouragement, which could depress fundraising and, ultimately, turnout. They can also point to a sign of hope embedded in the latest numbers: Voters aren’t exactly enamored of Republicans either. According to ABC News, only 25 percent of Americans self-identify as Republicans, versus 31 percent Democratic. The largest bloc are independents, which has been the case since spring 2009.

But voter affiliation and how Americans actually vote are two different things. And what’s driving voter intentions today is frustration.

“In July, 51 percent of Americans said they’d rather see the Republicans run Congress, to act as a check on Obama...,” writes Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News. “Now it’s 55 percent; among likely voters, 61 percent. And Congress overall has a 25 percent approval rating, not its lowest on the books (17 percent in 1992, 18 percent in 1994), but hardly a happy number.”

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