Dems, Republicans tied on 2014 generic ballot

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Democrats are now running neck and neck with Republicans on the generic ballot for this November's midterm elections, according to a George Washington University battleground poll released Tuesday.

Forty-three percent said they’d vote for a Republican, 43 percent for a Democrat, and 14 percent were undecided, the poll found. 

Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake released their survey at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

“This race could be very, very competitive,” Goeas said, but added, “I view this data giving the edge even more to Republicans.”

Among people who say they’re extremely likely to vote, Republicans had a 5-percentage-point advantage.

“The biggest challenge for the Democrats is turnout,” Lake warned, calling it “really dramatic this time.”

The pollsters pointed to the recent special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Voters elected Republican candidate David Jolly by a few percentage points in a highly competitive race against Democrat Alex Sink.

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The outcome of the midterm elections could be based on the public’s opinion of incumbents and Washington in general, Lake said. According to the poll, 46 percent approved of their representative, 42 percent disapproved and 12 percent were unsure. Eighty-two percent, meanwhile, said they disapproved of Congress as whole. 

“Both parties are universally despised,” Lake said. “The best thing the Republicans have going for them is how much the Democrats are hated. The best thing the Democrats have going for them is how much the Republicans are hated.”

The difference between the two parties, she said, is that Democrats are united and happy with President Obama, and Republicans are much more divided.  

Democrats have the edge on several crucial issues, according to the survey. Forty-three percent said they believed Democrats solve the nation’s problems better than Republicans, compared to 35 percent who gave the edge to Republicans. The poll found Democrats did better than Republicans on standing up for the middle class, and championing Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans, by contrast, had the advantage on fiscal issues. Nearly half of the public said the GOP could deal with the economy, federal budget and taxes better than Democrats, the poll suggests.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” Lake said. “The challenge for the Democrats, I think … is [they] need to articulate a strong economic agenda.”

A number of other key factors, however, could hurt Democrats’ chances, including ObamaCare, the influence of the Koch brothers and Obama’s low approval ratings.

ObamaCare will be an important factor in the midterms, the pollsters said. Their survey found 53 percent of the public opposed the healthcare law compared to 43 percent who favored it.

Messaging about the billionaires Charles and David Koch has also not helped the Democrats, the poll found. Fifty-two percent said they had never heard of the brothers, who largely donate to conservative groups. 

Obama also received a 44 percent approval rating in the survey, compared to 53 percent who disapproved of his job as president.

“Democratic candidates will be facing the wrath of voters over the policy stumbles of the Obama administration, but they will not enjoy the advantages of having a presidential turnout operation to aid their campaigns,” Goeas wrote in his analysis of the poll. 

Lake, meanwhile, said “the untold story” about this year’s elections, compared to 2010, is that moderate Republicans aren’t getting knocked off in their primaries by Tea Party types. 

Tying the legalization of marijuana possession to voters’ ballots could also have an effect on turnout, the pollsters found. Seventy-three percent approved of legalizing medical marijuana and 52 percent approved of decriminalizing possession of the drug.

Thirty-nine percent said they would be more likely to turn out to the polls if a proposal to legalize pot wound up on ballots, the survey indicated. 

As for 2016, Hillary Clinton led the pack of potential contenders with 54 percent approval among likely voters. For the GOP race, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) led with 38 percent approval, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 36 percent, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 34 percent. 

The nationwide poll surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters from March 16 to 20.