A new survey by Democracy Corps in 50 of the most competitive battleground Congressional districts – nearly all of which gave a majority to Obama in the last presidential election – shows the new Republican majority very much in play in 2012.
The Republican incumbents in these districts, 35 of them freshmen, remain largely unknown and appear very vulnerable in 2012 (depending on redistricting). In fact, these incumbents are in a weaker position than Democratic incumbents were even in late 2009, or Republican incumbents were in 2007 in comparable surveys conducted by Democracy Corps.
These incumbents, identified by name, have an average approval rating of 35 percent across the 50 districts, with 25 percent disapproving. Another 38 percent were not able to give the candidates a rating, suggesting lack of visibility. This is about 10 points lower than the approval rating Democratic incumbents held in July of 2009 (with comparable disapproval rating).
More importantly at this early point, just 40 percent of voters in these districts say that they will vote to reelect their incumbent (asked by name in each district), while 45 percent say that they “can’t vote to reelect” the incumbent.
This leads to a congressional race that is dead-even in the battleground. After winning these seats by a collective 14 points in 2010, these Republicans now lead generic Democratic challengers by just 2 points, 44 to 46 percent, and stand well below the critical 50 percent mark. The race is dead even in the top tier of the 25 most competitive seats, with 46 percent for the Democrats versus 45 percent for the Republicans. In the next 25 seats, the Republicans have a slight 42 to 47 percent advantage.
For comparison, in July 2009, after the luster of President Obama’s inauguration had already begun to fade, the Democratic incumbents in our battleground of 40 districts had a 6-point advantage over a generic Republican challenger. 36 of these 40 Democrats went on to lose their seats. And in June of 2007, in the top 35 most competitive Republican-held districts, the incumbents also held a 6-point lead. 19 of those 35 Republicans went on to lose their seats.
And of course, we know that in 2010, two-thirds of Democrats in McCain seats could not hold on. The Republicans in Obama seats are already at risk.
Of course, a lot can happen to change the political dynamic over the next 19 months, but right now, the playing field that Republicans must defend looks larger than it did for either Democrats in 2009 or Republicans in 2007.
We will be releasing a full analysis of this data, along with data about the current debate over the budget, later in the week. *
These districts include 44 that were won by President Obama in 2008 and were chosen based on the 2008 presidential margin, the 2010 congressional margin and race rating from Charlie Cook and others. Obviously, redistricting will impact the congressional battleground substantially, but these districts give a snapshot of the districts, and voters, who have swung between the two parties over the last two years.