An ambiguous landscape

AN AMBIGUOUS LANDSCAPE…. You don’t need a meteorologist to know which way the winds are blowing — frustrated voters are in a sour mood and the Democratic majority is poised to feel the brunt of the public’s anxieties and frustrations.

But the closer one looks at the data, the more ambiguous the political landscape appears.

Republicans are heading into the general election phase of the midterm campaign backed by two powerful currents: the highest proportion of voters in two decades say it is time for their own member of Congress to be replaced, and Americans are expressing widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama’s leadership.

But the latest New York Times/CBS News poll also finds that while voters rate the performance of Democrats negatively, they view Republicans as even worse, providing a potential opening for Democrats to make a last-ditch case for keeping their hold on power.

Right off the bat, Republicans may be inclined to feel encouragement from the results. President Obama’s approval rating has edged lower; the public doesn’t like health care reform or the Recovery Act; and among likely voters, the GOP is ahead on the generic ballot. That’s not a bad position for the minority party to be in less than seven weeks before the midterms.

But go ahead and dig through the data. You’ll notice that it’s apparent Republicans aren’t exactly popular right now.

* Asked for their opinion on the way congressional Democrats have done their jobs, 30% of respondents approved. Asked the same about congressional Republicans, only 20% approved.

* Generally speaking, 45% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, the highest score in a year. For the GOP, 34% have a favorable opinion. At this point in 1994, when Republicans took control of Congress, the party’s favorable rating was 52%.

* 39% of Americans believe President Obama has a clear plan for solving the nation’s problems. 18% say the same about congressional Republicans.

* Which party has better ideas for solving the nation’s problems? 40% say Democrats, 33% say Republicans.

* Who’s doing more to improve the economy? 48% say President Obama, 28% say Republicans.

* Which party is more likely to create new jobs? 44% say Democrats, 38% say Republicans.

* Which party will do more to help the middle class? 55% say Democrats, 33% say Republicans.

* Who’s to blame for the economic mess? 37% say the Bush administration, 11% say Congress, 5% say the Obama administration.

Even on health care, 40% support repeal. But when the poll tells respondents that repeal would go back to allowing insurance companies to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, support for repeal drops to 19% — suggesting the repeal push would fail miserably if Americans were told of the consequences.

I realize Republicans already assume they’re taking at least one chamber of Congress, and the odds of them doing so are pretty good. It’s possible, if not likely, that voters will find the GOP’s message, agenda, and tactics to be completely wrong, and then elect them anyway.

But reading a poll like this, it’s hard not to think Dems still have a chance.