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Gallup Poll Shows Republicans Favored in Congressional Elections

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US Capitol
Cindy Saine

A new Gallup Poll public opinion survey indicates that American voters now prefer Republican candidates over Democratic candidates on a generic ballot by 49 to 43 percent for congressional elections in November.  The trends reflected in the poll could mean a rough time at the polls in November for U.S. President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party.  

Gallup's daily tracking poll has shown Republicans with a slight lead on generic ballots for the November congressional races for several weeks, but Republicans have now expanded it to the largest lead of this campaign season.  The shift to a larger lead for Republicans happened the same week that President Barack Obama's approval rating dropped slightly to 46 percent in the Gallup poll, his lowest weekly average to date.

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of the respected Gallup Poll:

'In general, I think the data simply reinforce our conclusion here at Gallup that, everything else being equal, Republicans are looking good in the forthcoming midterm elections November second," said Frank Newport.

The Gallup poll shows that the percentage of registered voters identifying themselves as Republicans has been consistent over the past several weeks.  But there has been a decline in the percentage of voters identifying themselves as Democrats and an increase in those polled identifying themselves as independents.

David Wasserman is house editor of the Cook Political Report, a non-partisan publication that provides analysis of U.S. political races.  He says a shift in independent voters is critical.

"And I really think the key to this midterm election is independents, and independent voters, those voters who don't necessarily affiliate with either party," said David Wasserman. "They basically behaved at the polls like Democrats in 2006 and 2008.  And in the public opinion surveys, the data that we are seeing, they are behaving more and more like Republicans lately."

President Obama's Democrats are also fighting against historic voting trends, as David Hawkings, managing editor of Congressional Quarterly Weekly, explains.

"In our system of government, the president runs every four years, there is one race for every House seat and one-third of the Senate in between every presidential election, and so the voters don't have any way to vote for or against  the president and so they essentially, to simplify things they express their sentiment about the president in their votes for Congress," said David Hawkings. "And generally after two years, there is always, almost always a little bit of "buyer's remorse" [regrets about who the voters chose] about the president."

Hawkings says Republicans are likely to pick up seats, but the interesting question is if they can manage to pull off what is sometimes referred to as "the big wave", meaning they capture enough seats to re-take majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"There have been some signs of what they call "the big wave", and one of the reasons that the Republicans won in 1994, the so-called "Newt Gingrich Revolution",  the "Contract with America Revolution", where 40 years of Democratic-control of the House came to an end, there were several reasons for that," he said. "One of them was an anti-incumbent sentiment, one of them was just a "tired of business as usual" sentiment, and there were other sort of reasons in favor of the Republicans.  The signs at the moment seem dimmer."  

Frank Newport says recent polls show a very potent anti-incumbent mood across the country, with voters frustrated with an uncertain economy and continued high unemployment. Newport says Republicans may be on the brink of winning the 40 seats they would need to retake majority control of the House.

"I think we are close, in either direction," he said. "Because obviously the Democrats have a fairly substantial margin, in terms of seats now, so the Republicans would need to win a number of seats to take control, but I think that is within the realm of possibility.  Whether or not it is going to happen or not is really going to depend on what happens between now and November second, but we can't rule it out.  Again, it looks like a good year for Republicans, whether it is an exceptional year for Republicans remains to be seen."

The Gallup Poll also shows that Republicans continue to enjoy an advantage in reported voter enthusiasm over Democrats,  by a margin of 39 to 24 percent in the latest survey.  Frank Newport says historically, Republicans have an edge in  fervor among voters, and this translates into higher voter turnout  for midterm congressional elections.

"Historically we find Republicans generally tend to be somewhat more emotional and strong in their feelings," said Newport. "Some of that actually based on our research is based on religion.  In general, Republicans are significantly more likely to be religious than Democrats, based on our measures, and religion has emotion as part of it, and that is, I think, part of the equation as well."

Although current trends look bleak for Democrats, there are still five months to go, and Democrats will certainly fight  back.  In a recent speech in Pittsburgh, President Obama sounded a tougher tone against Republicans.

"Now, some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party," said President Obama. "From our efforts to rescue the economy to health insurance reform to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers. They said no to tax cuts for small businesses; no to tax credits for college tuition; no to investments in clean energy. They said no to protecting patients from insurance companies and consumers from big banks."

President Obama said that Democrats and Republicans differ starkly on the role of government in helping to solve the major problems Americans face.  

The Gallup Poll shows that the issues voters care most about are the economy, jobs, the national debt and immigration.  It is not yet clear what impact the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may have on the November 2 congressional elections.

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