Republicans Shouldn't Take Midterms as a Mandate, Poll Suggests

Those eyeing New Hampshire should sober up.

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Flickr/Noel Coates

While Republicans in Washington are still celebrating their November victories, those with 2016 in their sights—Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—will have to exercise some degree of restraint in the Senate if they want to impress New Hampshire voters.   

That's the message from respondents in a Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire Poll, which shows 44 percent of  likely general election voters say the 2014 midterm results do not provide a mandate for the Republicans to “carry out a new agenda.” Rather, the voters are split, with 46 percent saying President Barack Obama should give ground to get things done, while 44 percent say he should stop the GOP from going “too far.” The poll of 500 likely general election voters was conducted by Purple Insights Nov. 12-18 and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

The split response to the 2014 Republican gains is a cautionary sign for leaders who overreached four years ago when they retook control of the U.S. House on a wave of Tea Party-driven angst. After adopting a confrontational posture, they saw their presidential candidate defeated in 2012—including in the Granite State, where voters supported Obama's re-election.

New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes, is a near perfect bellwether for the rest of the country. Its electorate picked the winning presidential candidate in eight of the last nine elections.

“Purple states project nicely onto the national landscape,” said Steve McMahon, CEO and founder of Purple Strategies, parent of Purple Insights. 

On the ground in New Hampshire, the GOP is behaving soberly. “Republicans either have, or are pretending to have, learned the lessons of 2010,” said Kerry Marsh, a party strategist based in Manchester, N.H., for Spectrum Marketing Companies. The new Republican-controlled Congress needs to focus on “getting little things done, putting wins on the board and showing people that they can govern,” she said.

The state's local politics also suggest a desire for measured behavior: state House Speaker William O'Brien, a Republican firebrand, clung to power last week by just four votes and only after promising a more collegial style of leadership. On the federal level, voters in the state mostly resisted the national trend, returning Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen to Washington. The state split on its House members, re-electing Democrat Ann Kuster in the 1st Congressional District and ousting Democrat Carol Shea-Porter in the 2nd. (She was replaced by Republican Frank Guinta.)   

Potential presidential candidates will be pulled by their base toward the notion of a mandate as 79 percent of registered Republicans in the state want to see Obama give ground. Independents are split, with 46 percent of them saying the president should get out of the Republicans' path while 40 percent want Obama to provide a “check and balance.” The poll also found 44 percent of general election voters are “more optimistic” about what Washington will do over the next four years—and 28 percent are “less optimistic.” As expected, conservatives tend to be more optimistic, while liberals are less, the poll found. 

While the respondents urged restraint by Republicans, its findings aren't all good for Democrats either.

Voters say they trust Republicans more in key areas, including foreign policy (by 16 percentage points), cutting through partisan gridlock (by 13 percentage points), having a positive vision for the future (by 3 percentage points) and being someone who can be trusted to do the right thing (by 3 percentage points).

Republicans are even eroding the traditional Democratic advantage on the empathy question. Respondents were almost evenly split on whether a Republican or Democratic presidential nominee would “care about people like you.”  Four years ago, New Hampshire voters broke decidedly in the president's favor when asked in exit polls to name the candidate who is  "more in touch with people like you.”

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