Immediately after the federal government shutdown, Democrats claimed that their momentum improved their chances to recapture the House after next year's midterm elections. But a new poll released this week shows that momentum has vanished in the wake of the Obama administration's failures in implementing the health care law.
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows the parties are now tied on the generic ballot, with each party at 39 percent. A combined 23 percent of registered voters either prefer another candidate, wouldn't vote, or are undecided.
That is down from a 9-point Democratic lead in late September, immediately before Republican opposition to the health care law led to the shutdown. Independent voters, who split virtually evenly in the September survey, now back the Republican House candidate in their district by an 11-point margin, 37 percent to 26 percent. Among white voters, Republicans now have a 14-point lead, 46 percent to 32 percent. And, perhaps most strikingly, the poll shows no significant difference in vote intention by age, with the two parties virtually tied, even among voters under 30, who stuck with Democrats even in the 2010 GOP landslide.
Results from the same survey, released on Tuesday, showed President Obama with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and a spike in opposition to the health care law. Obama's approval rating dropped 6 points, to 39 percent, since September. And the percentage of voters who say they support his signature legislative achievement dropped by the same margin, as the online health insurance exchange has been plagued by glitches and Americans in the individual insurance market have seen their policies canceled to comply with the law.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted Nov. 6-11, surveying 2,545 registered voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 1.9 percentage points.
These developments complicate Democrats' ambitions to take back the House after 6 years of GOP control. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats' campaign arm, has touted a handful of new challengers who have jumped into races across the country following the shutdown, feeling a wind at their backs, both nationally and in their respective, GOP-held districts. But with Quinnipiac and other surveys showing President Obama's approval rating falling, that tailwind has subsided.
Moreover, even if Democrats had maintained their 9-point edge in the generic ballot, their path to a House majority still would have been uphill. Republicans enjoy structural advantages, taking the 435 House districts writ large, as a result of both population trends and the drawing of congressional districts. Democratic voters are more clustered in urban areas, and Republican gains in 2010 allowed them to draw lines that maximized their advantages in some states. There is also evidence that generic ballot polls underestimate Republican support, particularly at the early states of the cycle.
Though Quinnipiac hadn't polled since before the shutdown, the dissipation of Democratic momentum seems more closely tied to the increasing unpopularity of the health care law. Only three and a half weeks ago, immediately following the shutdown's end, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Democrats still leading the GOP on the generic ballot by 8 points among registered voters and Americans' views on the health care law almost as favorable as unfavorable.
The real battle, as things stand presently, is in the Senate, where Republicans need to win six seats to wrestle control from Democrats. With precisely that number of Democratic-held seats in states that went for Republican Mitt Romney in last year's presidential election (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia), the GOP's chances there are stronger now than they were before the shutdown, given the increasing degree to which voters' Senate choice is tied to their opinion of the president.