Time for a wake-up call, not for panic

TIME FOR A WAKE-UP CALL, NOT FOR PANIC…. A new Gallup poll shows Democrats losing their edge on the generic-ballot question. Asked which party’s congressional candidate they’d support if the election were held today, 46% preferred the Democratic candidate, while 44% sided with Republicans. The two-point gap is down from six points in July and 15 points in January.

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This is getting quite a bit of attention today, and for good reason. Dems are still in the lead, but their once-strong margin has all but disappeared. Republican support hasn’t grown much, but Democratic support has slipped badly. Particularly striking was the fact that self-described independents now prefer the GOP on a generic ballot by nine points.

But before DCCC staffers start jumping out the window, there are a few angles to this to keep in mind.

First, the midterms are 13 months away. It’s a cliche, but 13 months is a very long time in national politics (consider where we were 13 months ago). Making predictions this far out is rarely a good idea. The new Gallup data is a snapshot that comes before progress on health care reform, at a point in which no major bills have passed in months, and while the economy is still in serious trouble. A year from now, reform will hopefully have passed, and the economy will, again hopefully, be improved.

Second, a generic ballot has limited value — there are actual candidates’ names on a ballot, which comes after a campaign. For that matter, last November, the Dems’ lead on the generic ballot question had shrunk considerably, to about the point where is stands now. The party nevertheless expanded their majorities considerably in both chambers.

Third, Republicans are still awfully unpopular, aren’t trusted on major issues, and still suffering from an embarrassingly weak brand name. Democrats’ popularity has waned, but it’s tough to replace an unpopular party with an even more unpopular party.

Finally, instead of panicking, Dems should look at a poll like this as a wake-up call. People aren’t satisfied. The more lawmakers address the issues that people care about, the less voters will embrace a throw-the-bums-out attitude.