Republicans Win House, Get No Mandate in Poll Favoring Clinton

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Republicans are poised to retake the U.S. House next week without a mandate from voters to carry out their policies, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.

The minority party, whose supporters are more motivated and enthusiastic, leads 47 percent to 44 percent when likely voters are asked how they plan to vote in their congressional election, according to the poll conducted Oct. 24-26. The margin is wide enough that if it holds over the next five days it likely would give Republicans the net 39-seat gain needed to capture the House.

At the same time, voters either are divided about or opposed to the policies and approach that Republicans have said they would offer once in control, particularly on cutting spending; voters also want the parties to work together.

President Barack Obama’s campaigning isn’t helping Democrats, the poll shows, with a majority saying it makes no difference and almost one-fourth saying his efforts on behalf of his party actually make them more likely to vote Republican. Another Democrat, former President Bill Clinton, may be helping, as he outscores other politicians tested on popularity by a wide margin.

“The Democrats are not in an enviable position going in, but if Republicans are victorious, they can’t afford to just sit still,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey. “There is an expectation that if you change captains of the ship, things will go in a better direction.”

Anti-Washington Wave

Poll respondents reflected the anti-Washington sentiment that has placed many lawmakers on the firing line this election season.

“I think anyone who is in there, we need to throw their ass out,” said poll participant Earl Minick, 69, a retired state and federal worker in Frankfort, Kentucky, who considers himself an independent voter. “They have gone on spending binges and they don’t care about the public.”

In a cautionary note, voters overwhelmingly say they don’t want a Republican takeover to result in gridlock in Congress. Four-fifths say they want Republicans and Democrats to work together to get things done, as opposed to rigidly sticking to principles.

This may pose a dilemma for Republicans who ran on a platform of change and even confrontation. Respondents who identify with the Tea Party were most likely to say they wanted the parties to keep to their principles, though even in that group this was the minority view, held by 33 percent.

Independent Voters

The favorable political landscape for Republicans in the closing days of the campaign is largely the result of support from independent voters. They back Republicans over Democrats, 47 percent to 34 percent. That advantage stands in contrast with the 2008 presidential election, when Obama won by an eight-point margin with independents, exit polls showed.

One independent poll respondent, David Mullins, a 59-year-old airline pilot from Indian Trail, North Carolina, says he is voting for Republicans this year, even though he doesn’t expect the party to make tough decisions.

“I don’t have any love for the Republicans,” Mullins said. “They can’t cut Medicare and Social Security; they can’t cut the military.”

Besides independents, Republicans are seeing their strongest support among men, senior citizens and those with incomes of more than $100,000. Democrats have their strongest support among many of the same groups that helped Obama win in 2008: younger voters, women, those with incomes below $25,000 and non-whites.

Obama’s Popularity

In the poll, Obama is viewed favorably by 49 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 48 percent. Women are more likely than men to see him in a positive light, 55 percent to 43 percent.

The most motivated voters -- respondents who say they will definitely go to the polls and consider the election to be exceptionally important -- lean toward Republican candidates rather than Democrats, 59 percent to 35 percent. Also, 48 percent of Republicans say the election is “exceptionally important,” compared with 32 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of independents.

The overall Republican advantage in the poll, if projected onto individual races nationally, would almost certainly translate into a House majority.

Divided on Parties

The poll finds Republicans in an unusual position: on the brink of making political gains while the party and its policies are unpopular. Likely voters are evenly divided on the Republican Party, with 47 percent holding a positive opinion.

This contrasts with midterm elections in 1994, when the insurgent Republicans gained congressional control after polls showed voter attitudes tilting toward them. Before that election, the party had a 7 point advantage in positive ratings among registered voters, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Republicans have said they want to cut $100 billion from the federal budget as early as January. That would amount to 21 percent of the government’s so-called discretionary spending and target programs such as college loans for low-income students or medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

Less than one-third of poll respondents -- 31 percent -- say they support cutting federal spending in areas such as education and health care, excluding Social Security, Medicare and defense.

Bush-Era Tax Cuts

On other Republican priorities, bare majorities of likely voters say they support the repeal of the health-care overhaul passed earlier this year or extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all, including those with the highest incomes.

A Bloomberg poll earlier this month found narrow support for health-care repeal alongside strong backing for most of the law’s provisions, including its ban on insurance companies denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, allowing children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ policies and the addition of more prescription-drug benefits for those on Medicare.

Voters aren’t overwhelmingly embracing Republican views on the economy, either: the poll shows they are divided on whether Obama’s economic policies need more time to work or whether a complete change of course is needed.

Obama, 49, inherited an economy in crisis. Joblessness, which reached a 26-year high of 10.1 percent in October 2009, stood at 9.6 percent nationwide last month. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is up almost 47 percent since Obama took office in January 2009, though it’s risen only 6 percent this year.

Final Weekend Campaigning

In his recent campaign appearances, Obama has pointed to Republicans as being the party that drove the economy off the road. The president is trying to rally the Democratic base to blunt the Republican wave in the Nov. 2 elections and plans to spend the final weekend of the campaign in urban Democratic strongholds in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois and Ohio.

There is no clear consensus on which party deserves more blame for the economy’s problems, or how best to fix them, the poll shows. On the economy, Democrats and Republicans are blamed equally for the nation’s plight.

Reflecting how some state-level polls on specific races have tightened in recent days, Democrats are seeing some success in the home stretch. Among those who say they waited until October to make their voting decision, Democrats have the advantage, 52 percent to 37 percent.

Optimistic Republicans

Those likely to vote Republican are much more optimistic about the outcome of the election, with 42 percent of likely Republican voters saying they are optimistic, compared with 18 percent of likely Democratic voters. Just 4 percent of Republican voters say they are pessimistic. Overall, 73 percent of voters say they are either optimistic or reasonably hopeful about the election’s outcome.

There is no partisan split when it comes to anonymous money flowing into political advertising. Sixty-four percent of voters say groups that engage in political activity should be required to disclose their donors. Tax-exempt outside groups, many of them opposed to Obama’s health-care and tax policies, are spending millions to help Republicans this year.

The Bloomberg National Poll, which included interviews with 1,000 likely voters in the November 2010 general election, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The Tea Party is less popular than the traditional political parties, with just 39 percent of voters saying they have a favorable view, compared with about half of voters who feel that way about the Republican and Democratic parties.

Tea Party in Congress

Just 29 percent of voters say it will be a change for the better if candidates supported by the Tea Party are elected in November, down from 33 percent in early October. Overall, 30 percent of voters consider themselves supporters of the movement.

Almost half of likely voters say they oppose a national moratorium on home foreclosures amid a joint investigation by attorneys general in all 50 states that seeks to determine whether banks and loan servicers used false documents and signatures to justify foreclosures. Just more than one-third say they favor a moratorium, while 14 percent were unsure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is in a tight re-election fight against a Tea Party-affiliated Republican in Nevada, is among several Democrats who have urged lenders to halt foreclosures because of questions about paperwork processing. The Obama administration opposes a nationwide freeze because it could further damage the housing market by holding up sales, spokesman Robert Gibbs said Oct. 12.

Republican House Speaker

Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the presumptive House speaker should Republicans gain control of the chamber, is viewed favorably by 37 percent of respondents and unfavorably by 37 percent. A quarter of likely voters still say they don’t know enough about him to render an opinion. As Boehner has received more media attention in recent weeks, his favorability has increased slightly more than his unfavorability, compared with a Bloomberg poll in early October.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who Republicans assail as a profligate tax-and-spend Democrat, is viewed favorably by 33 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 55 percent.

Making even more campaign appearances on behalf of Democrats than Obama has been former President Clinton. That’s for good reason. The 42nd president is viewed favorably by 59 percent of likely voters, including 55 percent of independents.

“He was a scoundrel, but he didn’t make any bones about it,” said Minick, the poll participant from Kentucky. “I think he had some common sense.”

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