By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The venerable Gallup organization reports that, according to its latest national survey, registered voters now favor the Republicans over the Democrats on the congressional generic ballot test by a margin of four points, 48 percent to 44 percent.
For the Democrats, particularly in the White House, this is not good news as it reflects a pronounced move away from President Obama and his policies at a particularly critical juncture. Key to the swing is the shift in attitude by independent voters who, while not necessarily willing to call themselves Republicans, are saying they are willing to vote that way in the next national election.
Independents were an important part of the Obama coalition, responding favorably to his calls for change and his promise to bring a post-partisan, problem-solving agenda with him to the presidency. The fact that Congress is in a state of perpetual gridlock despite near-historic majorities for the president's party in both the House and Senate undermines his ability to cast himself as a problem-solver.
Obama's conduct of foreign policy has a tone of indecision about it as well, something that is also off-putting to independents.
Together these factors have contributed, over the course of 2009, to a huge increase in the preference that those who call themselves independents show for the generic Republican congressional candidate running in their district. In July, independents favored Republicans over Democrats by one point. In the latest survey, the gap has increased to 22 points.
What does that mean in terms of the next election? According to Gallup, "Republicans seem well-positioned to win back some of their congressional losses in 2006 and 2008." Whether they can do well enough to win back the majority in either chamber of Congress is still a matter for debate but the signs of change are there. As the poll analysis says, "Political conditions could still shift between now and Election Day to create a more favorable environment for Democratic candidates, but a Republican lead on the generic ballot among registered voters has been a sign of a strong Republican showing at the polls in the coming election."