Politics & Policy

Is the Midterm Tsunami on Its Way?

The GOP has a narrow generic-ballot lead in our polling, and undecided voters are sympathetic.

For months pundits have speculated about the potential for a six-year backlash against the incumbent president in this fall’s midterms, similar to 2006 and 1986. Or will it be a wash like 1998 and flatten into a mere ripple?

In 1994, we saw the Republican majority coming in a confidential survey that we did in September of that year for RNC chairman Haley Barbour and House Republican leadership member Bill McCollum. We were able to predict that, if the Republicans didn’t compromise on Hillarycare, it would be what we called a “tsunami.” Never before had we seen a Republican lead on the generic ballot for Congress — let alone a seven-point lead. Never. But that was the Republican generic-ballot lead in our September 1994 national poll.

Prior to this month it looked like this November would be similar to 1998. So far this year, our 2014 National Monthly McLaughlinOnline Poll has remained relatively constant. Since January a majority of likely voters gave the president a net negative overall job rating. However, the Democrats were able to maintain a plurality lead in the generic ballot for Congress — until this month.

From January through April. Democrats held a slight, one- or two-point edge. Each month, one in six voters were undecided. Most of these undecided voters disapproved of the job the president is doing, but they couldn’t bring themselves to say they’d vote Republican for Congress. In fact, among those who disapproved of the job the president was doing, four in ten voters were actually saying they’d vote Democratic for Congress.

But this month, they appear to be breaking for Republicans. Even though the decisive plurality of voters in our national polls is Democratic, Republicans now lead on the generic ballot for Congress, 43 percent to 41 percent. Not a great lead and a long way from a trend, but the gravity of the president’s negative job rating, the parallel opposition to Obamacare, and the strong desire to put a check on the lame-duck president is beginning to create political momentum that could put Democrats under another tsunami.

Just look at the monthly changes from April to May:

‐ In April, the president had a net negative job approval, 47 percent to -52 (-5). In May it worsened by six points to 44–55 (-11).

‐ In April, Obamacare had a net negative approval rating, 45–51 (-6). In May, it worsened by seven points, to 42–55 (-13). Obamacare remains the Democrats’ millstone, and the VA scandal has given Americans a real-life look into the reality of government health-care rationing.

‐ In April, 47 percent of voters preferred that their representative in Congress be a Republican who is a check on the president, versus 43 percent who preferred a Democrat who will help the president pass his agenda. In May, the Republican check and balance gained a net nine points, lifting it to a majority position, 51–38.

‐ For the first time this year, our monthly generic ballot for Congress went Republican. In April it was 41 percent Republican to 43 percent Democratic 43. In May, it’s now 43–41 in favor of the GOP.

Can it get worse for the Democrats — a strong double-digit House gain for Republicans and a Republican Senate tsunami? A further analysis of the undecided vote says yes.

One in six voters, 16 percent, are still undecided for Congress, but those voters disapprove of the job the president is doing 30 percent to 67. They disapprove of Obamacare 29–62. They want a Republican congressman to be a check on President Obama 42 percent to 17.

The Republicans could take six in ten of these undecided voters and have a national majority vote for Congress of about 52 percent.

We wish the election were next week. November 4 is a long way away, and time allows Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But the political pull of that fixed date is about to hit the Democrats like a meteor destined for its target.

Maybe President Obama will change the election’s course by placing a moratorium on Obamacare and starting over? Maybe he’ll approve the Keystone pipeline and approve more drilling offshore and on federal lands? Maybe he’ll compromise with Republicans to really secure the border and reduce illegal immigration by 90 percent? Maybe he’ll really put a freeze on Iran’s nuclear weapons? Or maybe the president will reinstate workfare for able-bodied adults to get welfare and food stamps?

There have to be a lot of Democratic pollsters and candidates seeing the same numbers and hoping for drastic policy changes from the White House.

Five months to go.

— John McLaughlin and Jim McLaughlin are Republican strategists and partners in the national polling firm McLaughlin & Associates.

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