The latest Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll says Republicans have soared to a mind-blowing 11 point lead, with voters saying they want a Republican-led Congress by a margin of 52-41. The generic lead for the GOP was only 5 points in the same poll last week. The Tea Party wave elections in 2010 rolled in with only a 7-point lead. It’s relatively rare for the Republicans to have a lead on this question at all, even in years when they do fairly well.
And that’s a sampling of “likely voters,” generally considered the most reliable response screen. The GOP lead is only 4 points with the much looser “registered voter” screen, which is something to keep in mind when looking at individual House and Senate race polls that use a registered-voter screen. Those have usually been abandoned by the last few weeks of an election, but they pop up every now and then.
Interestingly, this poll suggests a lot of the generic sentiment is party-based, not just a reaction to President Obama’s unpopularity. Obama still gets low marks across the board, but a relatively modest 22 percent of respondents said they were leaning Republican in the midterm elections primarily because of him, while 13 percent said they would vote Democrat in support of him. That would suggest the exhaustive efforts by Democrats to run away from Obama – or, in the case of ridiculous frauds like Allison Grimes of Kentucky, to posture as his active political enemy – aren’t going to pay off. It might even support the wisdom of Obama’s efforts to insert himself into the election and claim it’s all about him. I’ve always thought that was more than just an expression of his ego; I think he’s calculating that the benefits of motivating hard-core Obama voters to get to the polls would outweigh the losses to Democrats among independents and soft Democrat voters by associating himself with them, provided the candidates themselves wear political hazmat suits when coming near him. There really are people who will believe that someone like Grimes will vote less than 90 percent of the time with Obama, even as he declares the midterm elections are a referendum on his policies.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, “the midterm battle for control of the Senate will hinge on state-by-state dynamics in about a dozen closely contested races, where Democrats hope intensive campaigning has built a climate more favorable to their candidates than national polls suggest.” In other words, it’s possible that a huge Republican generic polling lead will translate to some GOP candidates who were going to win anyway winning by even larger margins, while photo-finish races still tip to the Democrats. That would make for some lovely victory parties for the winning Republicans, but still leave the Senate in Democrat hands.
On the other hand, a big polling lead like this could make for wind in Republican sails as the finish line for those close races draws near. At this point, tea-leaf reading is down to political voodoo about the probability that a candidate X points ahead in the polls Y days out from the election will win. There is much talk of “momentum” – with a couple of weeks to go, a candidate 1 or 2 points down who has been steadily gaining ground would seem to have a good chance of pulling into the lead if his party is sporting an 11-point generic polling advantage.
But then you’ve got all this early-voting and absentee ballot stuff, which has grown to absurd proportions in some states, and makes it even more difficult to forecast the outcome – what good does “momentum” in the last two weeks do, if a sizable percentage of the votes have already been cast? I’ve never been in favor of pointlessly inconveniencing people during elections, but it is also possible to make voting too easy, and too automatic.