Going into the 2014 midterm congressional elections, Republicans appear to have an edge.
A new CNN/ORC International voter survey out this week has a generic GOP candidate ahead of a generic Democrat 49-44 percent. The key word here is “generic.” Incumbents usually win in any case. Voters may complain of a “do-nothing” Congress, but attach a name to the candidate and they typically make an exception for their own elected representative.
Still, the trend is not good for Democrats, including a beleaguered president. From the start, President Obama has won precious few opportunities to work collegially with Republicans – especially in the House, where the tea-party wing of the party holds disproportionate sway (as it looks increasingly to be doing in the Senate).
During the recent partial government shutdown, Democrats led Republicans in the CNN/ORC survey 50-42 percent. But that quickly changed when the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act – Obama’s main legislative achievement – became a huge mess, which the administration is still scrambling to repair.
A clear gender gap is at play here.
"Virtually all the movement toward the GOP has come among men," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland told the news organization. "Fifty-four percent of female voters chose the Democratic candidate in October; 53 percent pick the Dem now. But among male voters, support for Democratic candidates has gone from 46 percent in October to just 35 percent now."
Advocates see the potential for electoral advantage here.
Politico reports that Americans for Prosperity, a leading tea party group, has begun focusing its 2014 congressional campaigning in an effort to defeat incumbent House Democrats who support (or at least don’t sufficiently oppose) Obamacare.
Meanwhile, despite some relatively good economic news recently – stock market, housing, auto sales, unemployment – most Americans still don’t see improvements to the economy.
Another CNN/ORC survey this week finds that nearly 70 percent see the economy in generally poor shape, while only 32 percent rate it good.
It’s no wonder, then, that nearly three-quarters of the public say this has been a "do-nothing" Congress, or that two-thirds find the current Congress is the worst in their lifetime.
"That sentiment exists among all demographic and political subgroups. Men, women, rich, poor, young, old – all think this year's Congress has been the worst they can remember," CNN Polling Director Holland said. "Older Americans – who have lived through more congresses – hold more negative views of the 113th Congress than younger Americans. Republicans, Democrats and independents also agree that this has been the worst session of Congress in their lifetimes."
Incumbents are nervous, wondering if this could be the year when some “generic” challenger could oust them.
"There is just under a year to go before any votes are actually cast and the 'generic ballot' question is not necessarily a good predictor of the actual outcome of 435 separate elections," Holland says. "A year before the 2010 midterms, for example, the Democrats held a 6-point lead on the generic ballot but the GOP wound up regaining control of the House in that election cycle, thanks to an historic 63-seat pickup.”
One more set of CNN/ORC figures particularly important in off-year elections, which must be troubling to Democrats: Thirty-six percent of Republicans say they're extremely or very enthusiastic about voting. That number drops to 22 percent among Democrats.