REPLACING AN UNPOPULAR PARTY WITH AN EVEN MORE UNPOPULAR PARTY…. In mid-September, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) was elaborating on why he wanted to force a confrontation with the White House next year that would lead to a government shutdown.

“If we take the majority, that should be a good indication to the president that the American people have not agreed with his policy and his platform,” Westmoreland said. “And that they agree with ours.”

This may very well be a common sentiment in GOP circles today — Republicans won, the argument goes, so they have a mandate.

But there’s ample reason for skepticism. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite is true — for the first time in memory, voters have punished an unpopular party and rewarded an even more unpopular party.

The exit polls tell an interesting story: 41% of voters yesterday had a favorable opinion of congressional Republicans. Congressional Democrats weren’t winning any popularity contests, but their favorable numbers were slightly better than the GOP’s, while President Obama fared better than both. In other words, Republicans won yesterday despite the public’s impressions of the party, not because of.

Such a result does not a mandate make.

In fact, one of the very first arguments we’re likely to hear from House Republicans is that the election results were an endorsement of their tax-cut plans. But, again, look at the exit polls — in the midst of a GOP wave election, a majority of voters said they oppose the Republican proposal to extend all Bush-era tax rates.

Think about that: the same electorate that delivered a massive win for GOP candidates also said the GOP tax plan is a mistake.

So, how’d Republicans manage to do so well? Try this exit-poll result on for size:

Who’s to blame for the economy? Bankers (34%), Bush (29%), Obama (24%). Of those who blame bankers, Republicans hold an 11 point advantage.

That’s strikingly crazy. Americans are inclined to blame Wall Street for the economy, but then voted for the party that cozied up to Wall Street, fought to kill financial regulatory reform, partnered with Wall Street lobbyists, and literally ran candidates for key offices who worked for and with the banks.

It’s quite a trick the GOP pulled off.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.