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Is Control Of Congress Really Up For Grabs?

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Several of my fellow bloggers — D.J. McGuire at The Right-Wing Liberal, Riley at Virginia Virtucon, and Jason Pye — are pointing to a new Gallup poll which seems to suggest that control of Congress, or at least the House of Representatives, may be up for grabs after all:

Congress912PRINCETON, NJ — A potential shift in fortunes for the Republicans in Congress is seen in the latest USA Today/Gallup survey, with the Democrats now leading the Republicans by just 3 percentage points, 48% to 45%, in voters’ “generic ballot” preferences for Congress. This is down from consistent double-digit Democratic leads seen on this measure over the past year.

As is true for the current structure of voting preferences for president, Democratic voters are nearly uniform in their support for the Democratic candidate in their congressional districts (92%), Republican voters are nearly uniform in their support for the Republican candidate (94%), and independents are closely split, with 44% backing the Democrat and 40% the Republican.

The new results come from a Sept. 5-7 survey conducted immediately after the Republican National Convention and mirror the resulting enhanced position of the Republican Party seen in several other indicators. These range from John McCain’s improved standing against Barack Obama in the presidential race to improved favorability ratings of the Republicans, to Republican gains in party identification. The sustainability of all of these findings is an open question that polling will answer over the next few weeks.

A good part of the reason for this development, it seems, is that Republicans are more enthusiastic about the 2008 election than they have been at any time this year, most likely due to the selection of Sarah Palin as the Vice-Presidential running mate, enthusiasm which may be reflected in the fact that Republicans seem to hold an advantage among likely voters at the moment:

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Republicans are also likely benefiting from the fact that Congress as an institution has some of the lowest approval ratings it has ever received:

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Take note that the only time that Congressional disapproval numbers have been higher than they are right now was in 1992 — and, in that year’s election, Republicans picked up nine seats in the House and no seats in the Senate, lost the White House, and failed to gain control of either body of Congress.

This year, in order to regain congtrol of the Senate, Republicans would need to not only win all 23 of the races for seats currently held or controlled by Republicans, including states like Virginia where the Democratic candidate leads the polls by a seemingly insurmountable margin, but they would also need to pick up at least two seats from the Democrats — preferably three or four to offset independents Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. The problem the Republicans face in that regard is that, with the exception of Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, there isn’t a single Democratic incumbent or Democrat controlled Senate seat up for grabs right now where Republicans have a realistic chance of winning and, in some cases like Mark Pryor of Arkansas, the GOP doesn’t even have a candidate on the ballot.

Realistically, the best the GOP can hope for in the Senate is that they lose no more than one seat (Virginia seems a lost cause at this point), pick up Louisiana, convince Joe Lieberman to caucus with Republicans, and win the White House so that Vice-President Palin could break ties. The odds of this happening, though, seem slim indeed.

In the House, Republicans would need to pick up at least 16 seats to regain the majority that they lost in 2006. Possible ? Maybe. Likely ? Until we actually start seeing poll numbers from individual races that show Republicans winning, I’d have to say not likely at all.

For example, the guys at Election Projection currently are predicting a net gain of 11 seats for the Democrats. Given numbers like that, it doesn’t look promising for the GOP.

Finally, the results of this Gallup Poll should probably be taken with a grain of salt given that a similar “generic” Congressional poll released yesterday by Rasmussen shows the Democrats ahead by eight points.

Cross-Posted at Below The Beltway