Last week, some pundits wondered aloud if Democrats were staging a mini rally against Republicans. The Gallup tracking poll reported a Democratic lead in the so-called generic ballot question for two consecutive weeks. Charlie Cook wrote "One interpretation of recent results is that the momentum in this critical midterm election has shifted and the Republican wave has subsided. Another interpretation is that it's too soon to tell whether much has changed at all."
The latest Gallup poll shows that Republicans have reclaimed a 5 point lead. A review of the generic ballot question from several polls available at Realclearpolitics.com shows that Republicans currently lead in every national poll.
The Republicans enjoy an average lead of 6% - and nearly every poll is limited to registered voters and not likely voters. This is significant as Republicans appear far more motivated to vote in the 2010 midterm, so the average "likely voter" is probably much more Republican than the typical "registered voter." A recent survey by Pew found that "Fully 56% of Republican voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in previous elections – the highest percentage of GOP voters expressing increased enthusiasm about voting in midterms dating back to 1994."Among Democrats, only 42% reported such enthusiasm. To add a bit oh historical perspective "The Republican Party now holds about the same advantage in enthusiasm among its party’s voters that the Democratic Party held in June 2006 and the GOP had late in the 1994 campaign." Pew is actually understating the historical significance as this is the first time that any party has recorded an enthusiasm rating above 50% in the last 16 years.
What impact will this enthusiasm have come election day? Cook notes in his column that a 5 point lead among registered voters for Democrats typically translates into a tie with Republicans among actual voters - because registered voter numbers historically underestimate actual Republican turn-out. In October 1994 Gallup reported that Democrats enjoyed a 46% to 44% lead over Republicans in the generic ballot - on Election Day Republicans won the national popular vote 52% to 45%. So a 2 point Democratic lead among registered voters translated into a 7 point Republican lead among actual voters and a gain of just over 50 House seats.
The current 6 point lead held by Republicans would likely translate into a pick-up of at least 40 - if not 50 - seats in the House. If the actual lead come election day is closer to 10 points it would not be unrealistic to see Republicans pick-up roughly 70 seats in the House - and likely come within a single vote of retaking the Senate.
Events can still change, Democrats can still reclaim an advantage - though one must wonder how. A look at the generic ballot trend going back to President Obama's inauguration shows that voters began to turn on the Democrats just as the health reform battle was heating up last summer and despite a slight tightening in lat spring 2010 the trend has been favoring the GOP for over a year. As Republicans learned in 2006, once started it's hard to alter that trend.
The latest House race assessment from the Rothenberg Report finds that 88 House seats are "in play." Of the 88, only 12 are held by Republicans, and the Rothenberg report excludes some Democratic seats that now seem to be in danger including Illinois’s 17th congressional and North Carolina's 11th. In the Senate, Rothenberg predicts GOP gains of 5 to 8 seats and even sees the once safe seats in CA, WA, and WI as moving toward the GOP. All of this, coupled with President Obama's newly reached low of 41% approval in the USA Today Gallup poll, point to significant GOP gains in November. The coming wave has not crested.