A new Washington Post / ABC poll adds another coat of paint to the portrait that's emerging for this November: President Obama's popularity is falling, Obamacare is unpopular, and voters would like a Republican Congress that can keep Obama in check. But all of those points have important caveats.
First, the toplines, as presented by Gary Langer of Langer Research, which conducted the survey. Emphasis added.
- "Obama’s job approval rating, after a slight winter rebound, has lost 5 points among all adults since March, to 41 percent, the lowest of his presidency by a single point."
- "Americans rate the condition of the economy negatively by 71-29 percent – the least bad since November 2007, but still dismal by any measure."
- He adds: "Among people who see the economy improving, 65 percent prefer Democratic control of Congress, while among those who see the economy as stagnant or worsening, 62 percent favor Republican control."
- Obamacare "gets 44 percent support, down 5 points; Obama has just 37 percent approval for its implementation, down 7."
- "Registered voters by 53-39 percent in the national survey say they’d rather see the Republicans in control of Congress as a counterbalance to Obama’s policies"
Bad news for Democrats.
Langer points out something important about Obama's approval, a point noted by Gallup in 2012: "Economic discontent remains the driving element in political views." There is a correlation between Obama's approval and economic confidence. Langer's data shows a similar link over the course of Obama's presidency. (Below: those who strongly or somewhat approve of Obama's job performance and of his handling of the economy.)
A dramatic change in the nation's economic picture could reverse Obama's approval quickly. Not that such a change would matter a whole lot for November.
That 53-39 preference for a Republican-controlled Congress is probably more directly related to the upcoming election. As Langer notes, that opinion "was similar in fall 2010, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and gained six Senate seats." It was similar, too, in 2002, according to the detailed data Langer offers. At that point, Republicans controlled the House and the White House, but 55 percent of Americans preferred a Democratic counterpoint on Capitol Hill. So, that November, voters … gave more seats to the Republicans. On a generic ballot, Democratic House candidates lead Republicans by a point, suggesting a much less dramatic picture than the one Langer offers.
It is important to note that I do not think this means that Democrats are in good shape for November. As I've pointed out repeatedly, including on Monday, the expected turnout will strongly favor Republican candidates. Even among young voters, who typically prefer Democratic candidates but turnout less in midterms, another survey indicates that young Republicans are more likely to vote than young Democrats in 2014. My point instead is that the 53-39 point is perhaps not as suggestive as Langer indicates.
Especially given that voters still prefer Democrats to Republicans on a number of issues. Only on the deficit do Republicans get higher marks than Democrats, as the graph above shows. Which is probably part of the reason that Democrats have the edge on the generic ballot.
But there is no actual generic ballot. The most important races this fall will be in a handful of Senate seats that could tip the balance of that chamber to Republicans. With Obama sidelined due to his unpopularity and continued skepticism about the state of the economy, Democrats are scrambling to reverse an already unfriendly electoral climate. This poll isn't as bleak for the president's party as it looks on the surface, but it certainly isn't what Democrats would have hoped to see.