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« Virginia Dems: Bucking Party, Defending Votes | Blog Home Page | CT Sen Poll: Dodd Trails Top GOP Candidates »

Why Things Don't Look Good For Dems In The Midterms

Independent political observers and Democrats themselves have been saying for months that 2010 is shaping up as a bad year for Democratic candidates, and the latest Gallup generic congressional ballot test only reinforces the point. Not only do Republicans lead 48 percent to 44 percent, but independents now favor the GOP by 52 percent to 30 percent.

Although generic Republican candidates hold just a 4-point lead, the GOP's perpetual turnout advantage means their lead would likely be higher if the midterm elections were today. Even a single-digit lead for Democrats in Gallup's testing often only means the two parties will be competitive, as more registered voters identify with the Democratic Party but more Republicans go to the polls on Election Day.

In the final Gallup survey before the 1998 midterms, Republicans trailed by 9 points but still went on to win a small majority of House seats. In the 2002 midterms, Republicans were down 5 points just before the election but again kept a slim majority in the House.

A year before the 2006 midterm elections --when Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress -- generic congressional ballot testing forecast the shifting mood of the country. An August 2005 Gallup survey found Democrats leading by 12 points -- one of the widest margins between the parties Gallup had found since the GOP took back Congress in 1994.

That survey was far from the only one to show a shifting mood. This is the first Gallup survey to show Republicans leading this cycle, and while a year is a long time in politics, the poll falls in line with other signs pointing in the GOP's direction.

"It's better to look at a series of these polls than one of them, but the fact is Republicans haven't led the generic ballot since the stone ages," said David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report. "Any sort of deficit is dangerous for Democrats because their support is more heavily concentrated within a few base districts."

The last time Republicans led was September 2008, just after the Republican National Convention. The poll was an outlier, as no other generic ballot test by any other polling firm had shown Republicans leading in at least four years. None did soon after, either, and Democrats went on expand their majority to more than 75 seats in the House.

Further significance in the poll is the shift among independent voters. The 22-point advantage for Republicans is a far cry from July, when the two parties were statistically tied. The migration of independents toward the GOP mirrors what occurred in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections last week, when a Republican knocked off the incumbent governor in the Garden State and the GOP nominee won by nearly 20 points in the Old Dominion.

The independent swing shows in the new Pew Research survey also released today. It found incumbents -- most of which are Democrats these days -- in a perilous place, with just 52 percent saying they want their representative re-elected and only 34 percent say most representatives should be re-elected.

"Both measures are among the most negative in two decades of Pew Research surveys," Pew reports. "Other low points were during the 1994 and 2006 election cycles, when the party in power suffered large losses in midterm elections."

The latest Gallup survey was conducted Nov. 5-8 of 894 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. The Pew poll was taken Oct. 28-Nov. 8 of 1,644 registered voters.