Tuesday, March 5, 2013
It's Not the End of The World for the GOP: A Comparison of 2010 and 2014 Generic Congressional Ballot Polling
Republicans seem to be doing a lot of head-scratching these days. For most of President Obama's time in office, nothing seems to have gone the way they had predicted or hoped. And worse than that, the GOP is receiving the overwhelming majority of the blame from the American public for the country's seeming state of disarray. From the debt ceiling debate, to the "fiscal cliff," to the sequester and more, President Obama has become the new Teflon president, while the GOP can barely muster a quarter of the country to admit they have a favorable view of the party. But how can all of this be? After all, the Democrats have controlled the Senate chamber for the last 6 years, and the White House the last four. The President's masterful control of the bully pulpit, his continued nationwide, campaign-style advocacy on behalf of his 2nd term agenda, and an obviously supportive D.C. press corps, all have some role in creating the impression of a Republican Party that just can't get it together.
And to top it off, in the wake of weak white turnout in 2012, there's talk in some circles of an emerging Democratic majority, at least at the presidential level. Sounds like a bit of a disaster for the GOP, huh? Surprisingly, no, not if the generic congressional ballot for 2014 is any indication.
According to both Pollster Trend and TPM Poll Tracker, Democrats currently lead the 2014 generic congressional ballot by just 42-40% and 43-40%, respectively. Regarding the 3 most recent surveys from 3 pollsters that frequently ask the generic ballot question, Republicans actually LEAD in one of them (Harper Polling (R)), TIE in one (PPP (D)), and trail by 3 in the other (Rasmussen). Should these numbers convince the GOP it's time to the shift their views leftward, or cause panic over a Democratic landslide in 2014? Probably not, especially once you consider where Republicans stood on the generic ballot at this point in the 2010 cycle. The below chart compares the 2010 and 2014 generic ballots by looking at an average through the time line of post-election 2008/2012 through the present (early March 2009/2013):
Compiled from TPM and Pollster
Without question, the Tea Party landslide of 2010 was an electoral high-watermark for Republicans over the last quarter century. That year, Republicans gained 63 House seats, 6 senate seats, controlled 29/50 governor seats, and carried the national house vote 51-45%. Yet despite all their success, at this very point in the 2010 cycle, it was the DEMOCRATS that led the Republicans on the generic ballot, 44-37%, as the above chart indicates. By comparison, present-day Republicans are only trailing Democrats on the generic ballot 45-41%. So, here's a message to Republicans: The SKY IS NOT FALLING...yet, at least. Especially not when you realize that no 2nd-term President's party has gained seats in Congress in their final midterm election since 1938, save 1998.
A closer look at the internals for the three big pollsters who frequently survey the generic ballot provides more good news for Republicans - they're winning higher percentages of Independents and higher percentages of their own party in all three polls. The race is only as close as it is because all three pollsters found voters identifying as Democrats at much higher percentages than Republicans. The Harper Polling survey showing Republicans ahead on the generic ballot 42-41%, found respondents partisan identification at D+8, or 42% Democrat, 34% Republican, 24% Other. The Rasmussen Poll finding Democrats ahead on the generic ballot 43-40% sees a D+7 electorate at this early stage of the cycle (39% Democrat, 32% Republican, 29% Other). PPP finds the generic ballot TIED, yet miraculously, also winds up with a sample that is D+9 (42% Democrat, 33% Republican, and 25% Other. Nevermind the fact that all 3 samples are more Democratic than the last two midterm election cycles, they're also more Democratic than the last two PRESIDENTIAL cycles (where voters tend to be less white and less Republican).
Just for fun, assume that the "deeply unpopular" GOP pulls off another miracle in 2014 and generates high Republican turnout on par with the Tea Party takeover of 2010, when they matched Democratic turnout at 35%, with 29% identifying as Independent. What kind of effect would such a reweighting have on the 3 polls, all other things remaining the same?
Unsurprisingly, Republicans take the lead in all 3 polls in the event turnout looks similar to 2010, and it's easy to see why. Absent a significant party I.D. advantage, the race is going to favor whichever party is winning more Independents and more of their own base. According to Harper, PPP, and Rasmussen's crosstabs, that party is the GOP. For those who are doubtful that Republicans will match their 2010 turnout levels in 2014 (as am I), consider the fact that the last time a 2nd-term, midterm election took place (2006), partisan I.D. was D+2, yet the Democrats took control of the House, Senate, and state Governorships by winning 31, 5, and 6 seats respectively, and carried the national popular vote 52-44%. Going back even further, the 2nd term, midterm election of 1998 saw partisan turnout at D+2, while it was D+6 in 1986.
The bottom-line seems to be that perception is not always reality. The Democrats and the press have spent the better part of a year rallying around the notion that the Republican Party, and particularly its Tea Party House of Representatives, is to blame for the nation's ills. While this formula does seem to have damaged the Republicans in terms of how Americans view them, it hasn't convinced them Democrats deserve total control of Congress again, as they had from 2009-2011. And if 2014 winds up looking anything like 2010 in terms of turnout, the "Republicans just can't get it together" meme could die quickly.