By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Just in time for the holiday pollster Scott Rasmussen has found yet another reason for Republicans to be thankful.
According to Rasmussen's latest national telephone survey, the GOP has extended its lead in the Congressional generic ballot test to seven points, representing almost a complete flip from just one year ago. Respondents said they would vote for the generic Republican congressional candidate over the Democrat by 44 percent to 37 percent in the next election.
"Since late June," Rasmussen said, "support for Republican candidates has ranged from 41 percent to 44 percent, while support for Democrats has run from 36 percent to 40 percent. Looking back one year ago, the two parties were in a much different place. Throughout the fall of 2008, support for Democratic congressional candidates ranged from 42 percent to 47 percent. Republican support ranged from 37 percent to 41 percent."
The idea that the Republicans in Congress are on the comeback trail confounds the conventional wisdom following the 2008 election that the party was, effectively, dead for at least a generation. It is still not completely clear, however, whether the shift is to the Republicans or away from the Democrats or, in practical terms, if that even matters. The movement among the electorate seems to be replicated in other polls.
The Rasmussen survey found that voters not affiliated with either party continue to heavily favor Republicans, 44 percent to 20 percent. Gallup has reported similar findings. Even a recent survey by the Democracy Corps, a group led by former Clinton advisers James Carville and Stan Greenberg and hardly independent, in the partisan sense of the word, found that Democrats held just a two-point advantage among likely voters on the generic ballot, 47 percent to 45 percent, with nearly half of all the voters in their survey describing themselves as conservatives.
Despite all the good news the Republicans do not have the luxury of taking a long time to determine what the movement in the polling data means. They need to take a gamble that it is based more on dissatisfaction with the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda than about any of the ideas the GOP is offering in Congress. Consequently, they need to at least have a defensive strategy in place that will give them something to talk about when the attention shifts to what the GOP would do if restored to majorities in Congress.
It is highly likely that part of the rejection of the Democrats' agenda is in part due to its complexity. The confusion regarding what is and what is not part of the healthcare package or the "cap-and-tax" energy bill is at least partly responsible for their rejection by large numbers of voters and the difficulty in getting either piece of legislation through Congress. Even as the healthcare debate began in the Senate, says Rasmussen, support for the plan fell to a new low with "Just 38 percent of voters now favor the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats."
Rather than solve specific and identifiable problems which the voters can understand, the comprehensive approach the Democrats have taken to these two issues—and others—resonates with the innate fear many Americans have of the unintended consequences of government.
It is therefore probably advisable the GOP replicate what it has done for healthcare—that is, propose a series of small but specific reforms that address the problems most people who have health insurance say exist within the American healthcare system. The GOP is not yet strong enough to set the agenda but it can still influence it, at least from this point forward.