Poll: Republicans Now Tied With Democrats In Battle For Congress

Quinnipiac survey shows the Democrats’ 9-point lead in September has evaporated.

Protesters urge Congress to end the federal government shutdown on Oct. 9 on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Steven Shepard
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Steven Shepard
Nov. 13, 2013, 7 a.m.

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.

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