2014 Is Looking Good for the GOP

A new survey shows Americans strongly prefer that Republicans control Congress.

Editorial cartoon on Obamacare and Republican response
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It’s not going to quite measure up to the Great Flood of Noah’s time, but the wave that is preparing to sweep the Republicans back into office in the upcoming election looks to be substantial.

At least that’s the conclusion any reasonable person would draw from the first 2014 political landscape survey conducted jointly for National Public Radio by Resurgent Republic and the Democracy Corps – partisan polling operations set up by veteran political operatives to generate survey information in the public domain.

With a little less than seven months to go before the voters next go to the polls to determine the composition of the Congress for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s term, the country appears strongly to prefer having the Republicans in charge, according to the results of the survey of 840 likely voters nationwide.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The factors creating such a GOP-favorable environment, Resurgent Republic said in a release, boil down to six key points:

  1. The midterm election in the sixth year of a president's term has been bad news for the party controlling the White House for a century, and this year looks like no exception. (The one time the pattern did not hold was 1998 when Bill Clinton enjoyed an approval rating in the mid-60s, far above Barack Obama's job approval today.) Obama fatigue weighs on all Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
  2. The demographics of midterm elections favor Republicans over Democrats. White and elderly voters constitute a larger share of midterm electorates, groups where Republican candidates run particularly well.
  3. Obamacare remains unpopular, especially among independents who hold the balance of power in midterm elections.
  4. President Obama's job approval remains stuck in the low to mid 40s.
  5. The generic ballot — a preference for a Republican versus a Democratic candidate for Congress — is essentially even, which has historically been good for Republicans.
  6. The Senate seats up in 2014 strongly favor Republicans. Only one Republican-held seat is up in a blue state. Seven Democratic-held seats are up in red states that Gov. Mitt Romney carried convincingly in 2012, and another five Democratic-held seats are up in purple or swing states. If Republicans win half of those twelve Democratic-held seats, they will take over the Senate assuming they hold all the Republican seats.

It is possible, of course, that the poll is an outlier, meaning it does not accurately reflect the mood of the country, or that the conclusions being drawn from it are simply premature. What is clear is that, for the moment at least, President Obama is a drag on his party. He has a majority job disapproval of 51-46 overall, and 60-35 among independents, while opposition to Obamacare remains both high and, at 51 percent, a majority national opinion.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

In addition, the natural intensity that moves people to go to the polls in non-presidential elections also favors the GOP. The strong disapproval felt by Republicans, 76 percent, is almost a third higher than the strong 52 percent Obama gets from his own Democrats.

The survey did show the Democrats with a 43-42 percent advantage on the generic ballot test – if the election were held today, would you vote for a Republican or a Democrat to represent you in Congress – but that number is hardly predictive. In 1994, the year the GOP won control of Congress for the first time in 40 years with a record swing in seats, the Democrats still led the generic ballot test by several points the night before the election.

At lot can happen in seven months. A foreign policy crisis or war could drive the country firmly behind the president. The economy could pick up. Or, most likely, the GOP could make a series of major mistakes in individual races that destroy its chances for victory. We saw that happen in 2010 and 2012. Nevertheless, going into spring, the Republicans are in a much better position than the Democrats, and for the moment at least look like they have a superior team on the field.