With the 2010 midterm election barely six months off, the numbers continue to look ominous for the Democrats.
President Barack Obama’s approval rating in the venerable Gallup Poll and other public opinion surveys lags below 50%, roughly the dividing line between modest congressional losses for the president’s party and huge ones.
The nationwide unemployment rate hovers close to 10%, the highest in any national election year since 1982.
The Gallup Poll’s generic congressional ballot, that tracks which party voters would prefer to control Congress, showed the Republicans narrowly ahead in early April. Usually, whichever party wins the nationwide popular vote also wins a majority of House seats.
The enthusiasm level, that weighs which party’s voters are most eager to vote, thus far this election cycle has strongly favored the Republicans.
And voter reaction to the landmark health care legislation last month continues to produce a thumbs down from a plurality of Americans. It is not the Democratic legislators who voted “no” on the measure who look to be the most vulnerable this fall. It is those who voted “yes” and represent problematic districts that supported the Republican candidate in at least one of the last two presidential elections.
In short, it is a good time to be the “party of no,” just as the Democrats were in 2006 and 2008. Still, anyone ready to call “game, set, match, Republicans,” would be premature.
Unlike the GOP’s big breakthrough in 1994, the Democrats will not be blindsided this time. The prospect of a Republican landslide in 2010 has been building in plain sight, giving the Democrats time to respond – both in terms of raising money and targeting races.
Unlike 1994, the Democrats already have a major legislative achievement under their belt in the form of health care reform. Although it has been controversial, it has muted claims that the Democrats are incapable of governing – an argument raised against the party 16 years ago after the Clinton administration’s major health care initiative foundered.
Also unlike 1994, this is a year when the condition of the economy dominates the issue agenda. So far, the high unemployment rate, huge job losses and plethora of home foreclosures have been bad news for the Democrats. But with signs of economic improvement being recorded, the party can hope that a favorable trend line will develop in the months ahead that will boost their chances in November.
In short, the 2010 election is the latest entry in a volatile era that began in 2006. The opening part of this particular election cycle has spurred Republican optimism, but the conclusion is far from certain.