By Shane D’Aprile - 10/27/10 02:00 AM EDT
Republicans are headed for a blowout election win that seems certain to seize more than enough seats to knock out the Democrats and take control of the House.
The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party.
Of the 42 districts polled for The Hill, all but two of which are currently Democratic, 31 had Republicans in the lead. Democrats were up in just seven, and four were tied. In addition, there are some 15 Democratic districts that are so far into the GOP win column that they weren’t polled. That would suggest at least 46 GOP pickups, plus whatever the party gets out of another 40 or 50 seats that some experts believe are in play.
“We didn’t even poll in about 15 districts that are already too far gone for Democrats,” said Mark Penn, whose firm, Penn Schoen Berland, conducted the poll. “So that, along with our entire series of polls, points to something in the range of a 50-seat gain for Republicans.”
Republican voters are also more likely to have made up their minds, sccording to the data.
The Hill’s data confirm other public polling and expert predictions, some of which put the historic wave even higher than the 52 seats Democrats lost in 1994 and the 71 they lost in 1938.
Pollster Stuart Rothenberg wrote Tuesday that Democrats face the potential of “a political bloodbath the size of which we haven’t seen since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
Others are more cautious. The American Enterprise Institute’s John Fortier said The Hill’s data bolstered his prediction that Republicans will take the House with roughly a 10-seat majority.
“The underlying demographics so strongly favor Republicans that it’s hard to see them not taking the majority,” said Fortier. But, he says, The Hill’s data reveal “significant disillusionment” with both parties. Fortier predicts a GOP gain somewhere in the 45- to 50-seat range, but says a gain of more than 50 would surprise him.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato predicted before Labor Day the House would flip this cycle. He noted the patterns that laid the groundwork for a return to a Republican majority were already hardening by the end of the summer.
“You can't change the fundamentals,” Sabato said, noting the high unemployment rate and low approval ratings for the president and Democrats in Congress. “At this point I just don’t see any way Democrats can cobble together enough districts to hold the House,” Sabato said.
He expects a net gain for Republicans that will exceed 50 seats.
One of the most striking findings from The Hill’s polling is that voter opinions have remained rock-solid over four weeks, particularly among independents.
In the overwhelming majority of districts, independent voters are breaking for Republican challengers while expressing widespread disapproval of Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
Obama’s overall approval rating across the four weeks has never reached 50 percent among likely voters, hovering between 41 and 47 percent.
Among independent voters, Obama’s approval was never above 41 percent. The highest approval rating for Congress across the four weeks was a mere 25 percent.
Democratic, Republican and independent voters all suggest the 2010 midterms are a referendum on the president, with at least 68 percent of likely voters over the past four weeks saying their feelings about Obama are either very or somewhat important in their vote next week.
Across all four weeks, Republican voters have maintained an edge in enthusiasm over both Democrats and independents, with some key districts displaying an enormous gulf in intensity. In Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s (D-Ariz.) district, for example, Republican voters were more passionate than Democrats about voting, by nearly 40 points.
Most voters’ minds are already made up. Seventy-seven percent of likely voters across the final 10 districts of Week Four say they are unlikely to switch their vote before Election Day. Another 22 percent of likely voters remain undecided, but those voters are much more likely to be Democrats or independents than Republicans.
While those numbers suggest that Democrats who trail by smaller margins have room to grow before Nov. 2, they also bolster the picture of a Republican electorate that is both decisive and more energized.
If anything, voter sentiment turned even more anti-establishment as the four weeks of polling progressed. The latest round gives Republicans the lead in six of 10 districts held by Democratic House veterans.
The deficits facing some longtime Democratic incumbents, who have spent most of their careers relatively safe from electoral peril, are striking — a reflection of just how deeply the anti-incumbent sentiment runs this election year.
Longtime Reps. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and John Spratt (D-S.C.) are all down by double digits, and each is polling at 40 percent or below. The three have held their congressional seats for 14, 20 and 28 years, respectively.
Reps. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) and John Salazar (D-Colo.) also trail their Republican challengers.
Forty-three percent of likely voters across these final 10 districts said their member’s years in Congress are a reason to vote against that member this fall. Among independents, 46 percent are holding incumbency against their member of Congress, while an overwhelming number of Republicans are: 65 percent to 17. Only Democrats view incumbency as a net plus — 67 percent to 16.
A number of these districts represent some of the least friendly terrain Democrats face anywhere in the nation in 2010. Obama won just two of these districts during the 2008 presidential race, and Republicans heavily outnumber Democrats in the vast majority of them.
Despite the environment, several longtime Democrats show signs of strength. In both the at-large congressional districts in North and South Dakota, Blue Dog Democrats hold slight leads over their Republican challengers. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.) leads by a single point, while Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.) leads by three. In Indiana, Rep. Baron Hill (D) is up two points on his GOP challenger.
The lone Democrat from this group who can truly breathe easy is Rep. Leonard Boswell (Iowa), who leads his Republican challenger, Brad Zaun, by 12 points, 49 percent to 37. Boswell leads by 17 points with independents and is pulling 10 percent of Republicans, according to The Hill’s poll.
Zaun’s favorables are paltry, with 47 percent of likely voters holding an unfavorable opinion of the Republican and likely voters in the district not holding Boswell’s incumbent status against him. The poll found 52 percent of voters said Boswell’s years in Congress were a reason to cast a vote for the Democrat.
“Voters want to send a message to President Obama, and that’s what they plan on doing,” said Penn. “But I don’t think it’s a message Obama can’t recover from if he listens to the voters.”