— Republicans remain on course to make substantial midterm gains across the country and to win control of at least one chamber of Congress, according to the final NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before Tuesday’s elections.
Nearly 50 percent of likely voters prefer a GOP-controlled Congress, which is virtually unchanged from the poll taken two weeks ago; a plurality of all registered voters say it would be a “good thing” if Republicans were in charge of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate; and almost two-thirds — including about half of Democrats — want to see a significant amount of change in the way President Barack Obama has been leading the country.
“This is a devastating set of data for the incumbent party,” says GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “It is a rebuke to the last two years.”
On Election Day, Hart adds, “The Democrats are about to feel the force of hurricane winds.”
Wanting the GOP in charge
According to the poll, 49 percent of likely voters prefer a Republican-controlled Congress, versus 43 percent who want Democrats to remain in charge.
Among the larger universe of registered voters — a less reliable gauge of those who will participate in a midterm election — the GOP edge shrinks to two points, 46 to 44 percent. But that’s a reversal from two weeks ago, when Democrats held a two-point advantage with registered voters.
Republicans also continue to enjoy an edge in enthusiasm, with high-interest voters preferring the GOP by 12 points, 53 percent to 41 percent.
These numbers are consistent with other polls that have led political analysts to predict sizable gains for the Republican Party. Currently, the Cook Political Report is forecasting the GOP to net between 50 and 60 House seats and six to eight Senate seats, while the Rothenberg Political Report is projecting between 55 and 65 House seats and six to eight Senate seats.
Republicans need to gain a net of 39 House and 10 Senate seats to win control of those chambers.
In the poll, 40 percent say it would be a “good thing” if Republicans controlled the House and Senate, compared with 34 percent who said it would be a “bad thing.” Twenty-two percent said it would make no difference.
Those numbers are essentially identical to an NBC/WSJ poll from October 2006, right before Democrats gained control of Congress; 40 percent said it would be a good thing if Democrats were in control, versus 30 percent who said it would be a bad thing.
Republicans’ short leash
If Republicans gain majorities in Congress, they would so with a still-damaged brand. Thirty-four percent have a favorable view of the GOP, versus 41 percent who have an unfavorable view.
The Democratic Party’s favorable/unfavorable rating stands at 39 percent to 42 percent. The Tea Party’s score, meanwhile, is 32 percent to 40 percent.
Given the GOP’s low standing, McInturff says Republicans would have a very short leash with the public if they end up controlling Congress. Americans, he argues, will keep voting elected officials out of office “until somebody gets the message — which is fix the economy and get things done in Washington.”
Yet Republicans, it seems, have been able to distance themselves from George W. Bush’s presidency. Only 34 percent believe that the GOP would return to Bush’s economic policies if they regain Congress, while 58 percent say they would bring different ideas.
Still, 51 percent have a negative opinion of Bush, versus 32 percent who have a positive view of the former president.
Voters want more 'change' from Obama
Obama’s job-approval rating in the survey — which was taken Oct. 28-30 of 1,000 registered voters (200 by cell phone), and which has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — stands at 45 percent, a two-point decline from the last poll.
More tellingly, a combined 63 percent — including 47 percent of Democrats — say they want to see “a great deal of change” or “quite a bit of change” in the way the president has been leading the country.
But Hart, the Democratic pollster, attributes much of this desired change to the state of the economy.
Indeed, a whopping 84 percent in the survey say they’re dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, and 60 percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Measuring the Tea Party
Hart also believes the Tea Party has captured the “fervor” and “intensity” of this election season.
According to the poll, 28 percent identify themselves as Tea Party supporters. Among these supporters, 57 percent would replace every single member of Congress if they could (versus 45 percent of all registered voters who want to do this), and 30 percent say their vote is to send a message rather than elect the best person for the job (compared with 22 percent of the electorate who say this).
Asked what kind of message they’d like to send with their vote, 50 percent of Tea Party supporters say that one of their top-two messages would be to return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution (versus 23 percent of all voters who say this).
And Tea Party backers are overwhelmingly voting Republican: 85 percent prefer a GOP-controlled Congress, while only 10 percent want the Democrats in charge.