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A closer look at CNN’s most recent generic ballot

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Today CNN/Opinion Research made headlines by releasing a poll which showed Republicans with a five-point lead on the generic congressional ballot over Democrats. If the poll is accurate, it is a very bad omen for Democrats, who had hoped to gain seats and even try to take back the House of Representatives which is currently under Republican control. Instead, the CNN/Opinion Research poll makes it more likely that Republicans have a chance of taking control of the Senate from Democrats, and therefore having full control of the legislative branch. This article will attempt to put the CNN/Opinion in a broader context, and to speculate on what the results mean for the 2014 midterms.

The results of the CNN/Opinion Research poll are a drastic reversal from the last poll released from the two organizations. Two months ago the CNN/Opinion Research poll had Democrats with an eight point lead, 50% to 42%, over Republicans. At that time, Republicans were attempting to gain concessions from President Obama by shutting down the federal government and threatening to not raise the debt ceiling.

After suffering a public relations disaster from the government shutdown and eventually conceding defeat the Republicans reached a bipartisan budget deal with Senate Democrats. That budget bill was signed President Obama today, and reverses many of the spending cuts that Republicans fought so hardly for in the 2011 debt ceiling deal. So it appears as if Republicans have benefited by moderating themselves to some degree over the last two months.

At the same time, Democrats have undoubtedly suffered from the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare website. The constant news coverage of the website glitches and insurance policy cancellations served to hurt President Obama and he has apparently dragged congressional Democrats down with him.

The larger question is whether these numbers will remain in November 2014 when voters go to the polls to elect the next Congress.

The Real Clear Politics average of eight polls has a much closer race between the two parties, with Republicans garnering 43.4% of the vote compared to 43.1% for Democrats. Two polls, from ABC/News Washington Post and Public Policy Polling, released in mid-December actually have the Democrats leading by two points and three points respectively. A Fox News poll released on December 16 showed the two parties tied. It is always dangerous to rely too much on one poll, so it is worth remembering that a broader survey of many polls has a more even race.

Still, the data is undoubtedly trending towards the Republicans. In late October the RCP average had Democrats with a six point lead, which has now been replaced with what is essentially a tie. The CNN poll showed that Democrats also suffer from an “enthusiasm gap.” The survey shows that 36% of Republicans “say they’re extremely or very enthusiastic about voting.” Only 22% of Democrats feel the same way.

Where the numbers go from here depends on a number of factors.

First, have Democrats suffered the worst of the Obamacare damage already, or are there more problems to come as more Americans enroll in the program. Thus far the problems have mostly been technical in nature, not affecting the actual care people receive. If the problems with the program become more serious, and start actually causing people to lose insurance and/or not get the care they need then the numbers could get even worse for Democrats. If, on the other hand, individuals actually start experiencing many of the benefits of Obamacare, such as free preventative care for instance, then the numbers could conceivably get better.

Secondly, it is always worth remembering that voters tend to vote with their pocketbook. The unemployment rate has gone down over the last two years, and the stock market is reaching new highs, and the budget deficit is going down. If voters believe the economy is heading in the right direction they may simply vote to keep things the same, which would benefit Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate.

Finally, there is also a question of whether Republicans will once again nominate candidate like Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, and Sharon Angle in key Senate races. In the past, the extreme viewpoints of some Republican candidates have cost them seemingly winnable seats. If the Republicans repeat those mistakes it could cost them some of them current support next November.

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