Politics & Policy

Tsunami Watch

Polling results cast doubt on an anticipated midterm GOP wave.

Back in May we conjectured about a “midterm tsunami,” and this month, just over two months from Election Day, the results of our 2014 Monthly McLaughlin Online National Poll still leave us wondering.

Since January, many of the opinions held by likely voters remain constant. President Obama’s job approval remains upside-down with 55 percent disapproving to only 42 percent approving. That’s a double-digit net negative rating. Republicans, however, hold a very narrow, statistically insignificant two-point lead over the Democrats on the generic ballot for Congress, 42 percent to 40 percent, with a large 18 percent who are undecided. Essentially the generic congressional vote is tied.

In fact, those who are undecided for Congress give the president an even more negative job rating — only 26 percent approve while 64 percent disapprove. That’s a 38-point negative rating.

Voters prefer the Republicans to be a check and balance on the president rather than the Democrats helping him pass his agenda, 48 percent to 40 percent. Voters who are undecided on the generic ballot for Congress prefer Republicans as a check and balance 42 percent to 17 percent, but 41 percent don’t know.

The majority of voters disapprove of Obamacare, 53 percent to only 42 percent who approve. Once again, the undecided congressional voter disapproves even more strongly, 57 percent to only 28 percent who approve.

As far as the economy goes, almost two-thirds, 62 percent, of all voters tell us that they think the economy is still in a recession. Only 29 percent say we’re not in a recession. The undecided congressional voters are more likely to say that the U.S. is in a recession, 72 percent to 15 percent.

With the president receiving such a negative rating, Obamacare being disliked, and the belief that the economy is still in a recession, why are so many voters still undecided and not breaking for Republicans? Why aren’t these undecided voters breaking against the unpopular president and his party?

Have the Republicans underestimated President Obama’s political skills once again?

Over four years ago, in a national survey reported in National Review, we identified the tea-party movement as a major asset to Republicans that would eventually help them regain their House majority. Since then, the president and his allies in the media have relentlessly attacked our friends and allies in the Tea Party, and four years of attacks have taken a toll. Today, the Tea Party is as polarizing as the president. Only 37 percent of all voters are favorable to the Tea Party; 40 percent are unfavorable to the Tea Party. Those who are undecided for Congress are equally as divided, with only 24 percent favorable to the Tea Party and 29 percent unfavorable. In fact, 15 percent of all voters disapprove of both the Tea Party and President Obama, but only 46 percent of those voters vote Republican for Congress while 35 percent vote for Democrats. They dislike both and split their vote. It appears that the president’s strategy is clear. He knows that his policies aren’t liked, but he’ll do what he has to do to make sure you don’t like his political opposition, either.

Finally, we asked a question that longtime friend and successful Republican strategist Carter Wrenn suggested to get to the heart of the deadlock: “A lot of Americans are fed up with typical Washington politics. Who do you think is most responsible for our broken political system?” The plurality of voters, 43 percent, say both Republicans in Congress and the Tea Party, versus President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. Only 26 percent blame Obama and the Democrats; only 27 percent say Congressional Republicans and the Tea Party. Most of those who are undecided for Congress, 65 percent, now blame both parties. Among the undecided voters, only 16 percent blame the Democrats and only 12 percent blame the Republicans. As long as these undecided swing voters are blaming both parties, they will remain undecided for Congress and deflate the midterm tsunami.

Back in May, we speculated that “November 4 is a long way away, and time allows Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Three months later, after a divisive primary season among Republicans, and the president demonizing the Tea Party and blaming Republicans for his lack of success, the president and Democrats are stalling the Republicans’ hopes of expanding their majority. The Republicans need to get back on offense and set an election agenda with a winning contrast. November 4 is coming fast.

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


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