With just over seven months to go until November’s midterm elections, a closely watched barometer in the battle for Congress is spelling trouble for Democrats as they aim to defend their slim majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Forty-six percent of registered voters questioned in an NBC News national poll said they preferred a GOP-controlled Congress, compared to 44% who said they wanted Democrats to retain control.
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That two-point margin in the NBC News survey, which was conducted March 18-22, is the same as in a Fox News national poll in the field a few days earlier. And an average of all the most recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics with a generic ballot question – which asks whether a respondent would vote for an unnamed Democrat or Republican candidate in their congressional district – indicates the GOP with a 3.1-point advantage.
Going past the toplines, both the Fox News and NBC News polls point to a sizable enthusiasm gap for Democrats.
Republican voters questioned in the Fox News poll were 8 points more likely than Democrats to be extremely interested in the upcoming elections, and 7 points more likely to say the outcome is extremely important to them. And that enthusiasm gap was a larger 17-points in the NBC News survey.
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Republican pollster Daron Shaw, who conducts the Fox News poll along with Democrat Chris Anderson, said that the enthusiasm gap currently “is a major problem for the Democrats; it is turning a close election contest into a potential Republican landslide.”
And Anderson noted that “even from the Democratic perspective, these are numbers that should worry Democrats.”
Enthusiasm is often a more important factor in lower turnout midterm elections that it is in higher turnout president elections.
Also troubling for Democrats – Republicans hold a 10-point lead among independents in the NBC News survey.
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Twelve years ago, Republicans held a 1.7-point edge over the Democrats in an average of the generic ballot polls at the same point in 2010 cycle. Seven months later, the GOP rode a massive Tea Party fueled red wave to flip the House with a massive 63-seat net gain, the largest shift of seats in more than 60 years.
Four years ago, at this point in the 2018 election cycle, the Democrats enjoyed a 6.8-point advantage over the Republicans in an average of the generic ballot polls. That November, the Democrats recaptured the House thanks to a 41-seat net gain.
Two years later, while Republicans lost control of the White House and the Senate majority in the 2020 elections, they defied expectations and took a big bite out of the Democrats’ House majority. The GOP needs a net gain of five seats in the 435-member chamber in November to win back the majority.
The silver lining for Democrats is that they still have seven months to alter the current political narrative. And the massive decrease in truly competitive congressional districts over the past couple of decades possibly may benefit them as well.
“I think we’re in a little bit of new territory with what the generic number means, because so many competitive districts have been redistricted out, so we’re down to 10-20 true competitive districts,” Anderson noted.
Fox News Dana Blanton and Victoria Balara contributed to this report