Voters Appear Set to Hand Control of Congress to the Party They Like Least

Chances are even better that voters will be suffering from buyers’ remorse by 2016
House Speaker Boehner, left, and prospective Senate Majority Leader McConnell
House Speaker Boehner, left, has a 28% favorable rating; prospective Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s is 25%, according to GOP-leaning Rasmussen

With the midterm elections less than a month away, polling suggests that voters will give the Republican Party majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006, when they booted GOP out of power after its disastrous six year run as George W. Bush’s “Rubberstamp Congress.”

The NBC poll found that while 59 percent of Republicans say they’re engaged in the election, just 47 percent of Democrats are paying attention

FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 60 percent chance of taking the Senate, and, largely because of Republican gerrymandering in 2011, there is little chance Democrats will take back the House. To keep their majority in the Senate, Democrats need to hold and/or win six seats, including five current seats in red and purple states — Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and New Hampshire — and one blue state that looks wobbly, Colorado. They are likely to hold the open seat in Michigan, the race for the open seat in Georgia is considered winnable, and — if they’re having a good night — upsets are possible in Kansas and South Dakota.

How likely is that Democrats will have a good night on Nov. 4? An NBC poll this week found that likely voters favor a Republican-led Congress by two points, 46/44 percent, while the larger cohort of registered voters prefer to put Dems in charge by the same margin, 46/42 percent. The preference for Democratic-control by registered voters ought to be encouraging — the Dems have put time and money into getting out the vote in critical states — but NBC also found that while 59 percent of Republicans say they’re engaged in the election, just 47 percent of Democrats are paying attention.

What is most striking about this election is that even though Republicans are likely to prevail, they are less popular than Dems. Earlier this month a CBS poll found that congressional job approval ratings were 21 percent for Republicans and 30 percent for Democrats. (Thanks to the GOP strategy of obstruction and gridlock, Congress itself has a historic low approval rating of 16 percent, according to Gallup.)

If Republicans win next month, it will be because they trumped voter antipathy by nationalizing the midterms in opposition to Pres. Obama, a strategy boosted by his low approval ratings. An ABC News poll this week put his approval rating at 40 percent, a historic low for him, and in the NBC poll his approval/disapproval was 42/52 percent. (An outlier was Wednesday’s Rasmussen daily tracking poll in which his approval/disapproval was 49/49 percent.) He’s less popular in red and purple states, naturally — according to Democratic-leaning PPP, his approval rating is 31 percent in Arkansas,39 percent in Louisiana, 40 percent in Iowa and 42 percent in North Carolina, for example — and this has boosted opportunities to unseat Senate Democrats running there.

Less relevant, for now, is the low opinion voters have of the two Republicans who would lead Congress under GOP majorities next year. Polling two months ago by right-leaning Rasmussen Reports found that Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the current and likely future House Speaker, had a favorable/unfavorable rating of 28/60 percent, while Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the prospective Senate Majority Leader, had a slightly worse 25/49 percent rating.

If Republicans win control of Congress next month — and if past is prologue — these two widely disliked leaders will be driven by their tea-party base to over-reach on on multiple fronts: More retrenchment and reversal of civil rights, more restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, cutting taxes for the wealthy while raising them on the working and middle-classes, repealing healthcare reform (again), shutting down the government (again) and, of course, impeaching the president (again). If so, they’ll tarnish the Republican brand (again) and chances are good that by 2016 the independents and even many moderate Republicans will regret voting for the GOP in 2014.

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