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The Coming GOP Wave

Steve Lombardo at surveys the good political news for Republicans. There's a lot of it:

  • We are in one of the longest sustained periods of voter dissatisfaction in modern history. Except for a few weeks in the spring of 2009, perceptions of the direction of the country have been strongly "wrong track" since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. That is seven years. The only comparable period is 1973-1983. This helps explain why we are in the middle of a third successive "change" election. Moreover, trust in government to do what is right is at an all-time low. In a Pew Research Center poll last month, less than one fourth (22%) of respondents said they could trust government most of the time. This is one of the lowest percentages in more than 50 years.
  • Republicans are dominating the generic congressional ballot. To start, as Jay Cost observed from a regression analysis back in 2006, the final Gallup poll generic ballot explains about 89% of the variation in the final House results on Election Day. We agree that the generic ballot is a great predictor of the House vote, but we also want to remind readers that Democrats have been "underperforming" on Election Day relative to the generic ballot. Over the past decade, Democrats have consistently led Republicans in both the national House ballot and national party identification questions, even in cycles where they haven't gained control of the chamber, like 2000 and 2004. So when the generic ballot shows Democrats to be tied with Republicans or even down by a couple points, this is pretty much unprecedented territory.
  • Voter enthusiasm is decidedly with Republicans. The latest Gallup poll on voter enthusiasm was a big blow for Democrats. Among voters who are "very enthusiastic" about the upcoming mid-term elections, the GOP was ahead by 20 points (57% to 37%) on the generic congressional ballot.
  • The party identification gap has narrowed ten points in 18 months as the GOP and Democrats are now near parity among registered voters. This is hugely problematic for Democrats. Historically, Democrats have a 5-10 point edge in party ID among registered. They often retain this edge even during GOP up-cycles. Like the generic ballot, we are in uncharted territory.
  • Of course, individual races do matter. But this too has looked ominous for Democrats. As Sean Trende notes, "Every Democratic Senate candidate, except five from very blue states (Pat Leahy (VT), Chuck Schumer (NY), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Dan Inouye (HI) and Richard Blumenthal (CT)), has had at least one poll test placing him or her below 50% this cycle. Similarly... [House] Democrats in [blue] districts who normally receive around 60% of the vote are below 50% as well."
  • Basically, there are too many Democrats sitting in GOP-leaning districts. Howard Dean's efforts as DNC Chairman to "redraw the map" by contesting previously safe Republican districts have put an unusual number of freshman and sophomore Democrats in peril. While the project certainly bore fruit in 2008 and vindicated Dean's controversial strategy, there are now many more seats that will be difficult to defend. Take Virginia's 5th district: in 2008 Tom Perriello defeated six-term incumbent Virgil Goode by a margin of less than 800 votes as part of an unprecedented success for Democrats in Virginia (this was driven by a turnout surge of new Obama voters). However, the district has a Cook PVI of R+5, meaning that historically it has leaned toward Republicans, and in the only public poll, his approval rating is 42% approve/ 46% disapprove. Perhaps most troubling for Perriello, who voted "yea" on healthcare: 52% of his district's voters are against the bill and 50% disapprove of Obama.

He does list the bad news, though the only convincing element of it is the potential that the improving economy could start to shape voter impressions. On that score, the new New York Times poll suggests a clear turn toward economic optimism:

Forty-one percent said the economy was getting better, up from 33 percent about a month ago, while 15 percent described the economy as deteriorating.

If the public registers economic optimism by the elections, then you've just got a midterm election with an enraged opposition base in an environment where Democrats are stretched to their maximum limit. In other words, still a recipe for large Republican gains.