A slight shift on the generic ballot

A SLIGHT SHIFT ON THE GENERIC BALLOT…. I’m still skeptical about the value of national generic-ballot polls, especially a year before an election, but since they tend to be taken seriously on the Hill, it’s probably worth noting that Gallup’s new poll offers Democrats a glimmer of good news.

Democrats have regained the slim edge they enjoyed earlier this year over Republicans in the latest update of Gallup’s generic congressional ballot for the 2010 House elections, and now have a slight 48% to 45% lead among registered voters. After having been behind in July and October, Republicans had moved ahead by four points in a Nov. 5-8 poll conducted just after the off-year elections.

There’s no real reason for Dems to get too excited about a three-point lead on the generic ballot, but it was the best performance for the party in several months.

The key factor in the shift was, as Greg Sargent noted yesterday, a change among self-identified Independents. In November, indys had moved heavily towards Republicans, preferring the GOP by a big margin (52% to 30%). In the new poll, they still prefer the generic Republican, but by a much smaller margin (44% to 40%). Greg summarized, “That’s a sizable swing among indys: The GOP has dropped eight points among them, and Dems have gained by 10 points.”

The Gallup analysis added, “The current generic-ballot results are similar to those Gallup found in July and October of this year, and indicate that the Republican gain observed just after the Nov. 3 elections was not sustained.”

But just as it would have been a mistake for Dems to panic after Republicans took a small lead on the generic ballot, it would be just as wrong for Dems to breathe a sigh of relief now that they’ve rebounded ever so slightly.

Democrats still face to worry about finding a way to motivate its base; still have a lengthy to-do list waiting for check marks; still have a fragile economic recovery to tend to; still have a spate of retirements to worry about; and still have a very motivated GOP base that can’t wait to head to the polls in November.

The subtle improvements on the generic ballot suggest Dems have a renewed chance to deliver. What they do with that chance is up to them.