Revolt Against Washington and the Republican Congress

The most recent Democracy Corps Congressional Battleground survey, fielded just two days after Congress ended the government shutdown, reveals a nation angry with Washington, the country’s direction, and congressional incumbents.[1]   While voters withhold anger for no party or person in Washington, Speaker Boehner and the Republican Congress are at the center and have taken the hardest hits from voters.  While the actual named vote for Congress has not yet moved, everything else has moved against the Republican members.

What we know for sure is that Republican incumbents are more vulnerable coming out of the shutdown, with job disapproval ratings and ‘won’t re-elect’ numbers worse than those for incumbents in prior cycles where many faced defeat.  Their vote is much less solidified and fewer voters are considering voting for them.  Seniors are moving to vote Democratic.  The country is done with its leaders.

The first battleground survey in June showed Republicans potentially at risk in a fair number of seats.  We thought Democratic incumbents were less at risk, though some pundits disputed that conclusion.[2]  This survey shows no change in the overall vote in both the Republican and Democratic districts, as the pubic is reluctant to reward anyone in Washington, but the survey shows big and asymmetric changes in the standing of Republican incumbents that leave them very exposed.

The big takeaway from this survey is the collapse in confidence about the country and the Republican Party.  The president and the Democrats in Congress have slipped modestly amidst the tumult, though at first blush both Democratic and Republican incumbents paid some personal price.  But it is Republicans who are losing ground on the key metrics of electability. The partisan context is poisoned by the image of the House Republicans.  The result is that the Republican vote has become much less solid and Republican incumbents have much fewer voters open to them.  A larger bloc now wants to see Democrats in control of the Congress,  and they are losing seniors and older voters in an off-year electorate where they traditionally hold sway.

We suspect that this is a more Republican and conservative sample than the one candidates will face next year. We only interviewed those who actually voted in 2010 or 2006 in these districts and new registrants with a high likelihood of voting.  Respondents are 85 percent white, only 9 percent are under age 30, 6 percent are Latino, and 4 percent African-American. It assumes that the polarized and nationalized politics does not bring in more minority voters and women who shaped the presidential election.  Virginia may give an indicator of changes in mid-term voters next week, as it did in 2009 for the 2010 mid-term elections.

The vote for Congress was unchanged in this poll, though this sample is significantly more Republican and conservative than the poll we conducted in these same districts four months ago. In the most competitive Republican districts, respondents in this survey recalled voting for Republican for Congress by 10 points over the Democrat – compared to 7 points in the June survey (and 9 points in the actual election).  In the Democratic battleground, voters in this survey, recalled voting for Romney by 1.4 points, compared to preferring Obama by  5 points in June, and 2.3 points in the actual election. The same pattern is evident on ideology: self-identified conservatives are a much larger portion in the sample, perhaps energized by the shutdown drama. We strongly suspect that there was a vote shift in this battleground.

Democracy Corps’ Congressional Battleground poll is the only one where interviews are conducted exclusively in the most competitive Democratic and Republican seats, using the actual names of incumbents in their districts.  This is not a generic test ballot.  This survey has been a good guide to the expanding battlegrounds in the elections of 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012. 


Key findings:

  • Country despairs of Washington.This survey finds a dramatic increase in those saying the country is on the wrong track—up 11 points (to 76 percent) since June in Republican districts.  Across all battleground districts (Democratic and Republican), incumbent disapproval is up, marking a strong anti-incumbent and anti-Washington wave.  While everything Republican has collapsed, both parties have lost ground in both the Republican and Democratic battleground districts.
  • But public support for the Republican Congress has collapsed.  The changes facing the Republicans—but above all the Republican Congress—are on a different order of magnitude that we have not witnessed in some time. In the Republican districts, the party brand has declined from net -12 in June to net -30 nowA stunning 61 percent now give the Republican Congress a negative rating—a 12 point jump since June—while negative ratings of Democrats in Congress remain fairly stable.  John Boehner is now the face of the House Republicans and his intense negative ratings are up 10 points.
  • While vote for Congress is stable in this poll, half of all voters in the Republican battleground districts now say they “can’t vote to re-elect” their incumbents, compared to just 39 percent who say they will vote to re-elect their incumbents.  There is no comparable shift in the Democratic districts.  
  • The vote is a dead heat in the most competitive Republican seats(unchanged since June) but the vulnerabilities beneath the initial vote choice put these Republican incumbents at serious risk. In those districts, when asked which party they would prefer to control Congress, by a 2-point margin, voters prefer Democrats —and only 42 percent say they want the status quo and Republican control.
  • Republican incumbents are very vulnerable to attack.   After even messages and attacks on both sides, Democratic challengers lead in the vote in the most competitive districts by 6 points (a net 8-point shift) and challengers in Tier 2 bring the margin down to 3 points (a net 9-point shift.)
  • Seniors are a big story.  Seniors broke heavily for Republicans in 2010, and they are a disproportionate voice in off-year elections.  In the Republican battleground, the vote is tied among seniors and the Democratic candidate has gained 5 points among this group since June.  In the Democratic battleground, Democratic incumbents lead by 14 points (51 percent to 37 percent) among seniors.  This trend has also emerged in the last three national Democracy Corps surveys – which is a sea change.

[1] This memo is based on a unique survey of 1,250 likely 2014 voters in the most competitive Democratic and Republican Congressional districts in the country. This survey was conducted from October 19-24, 2013 using a list of 2006 voters, 2010 voters, and new registrants.  Some questions were asked only in Democratic-held or Republican-held seats.  For questions asked of all respondents, the margin of error = +/- 2.77% at 95% confidence. For questions asked just in Republican districts, the margin of error = +/- 3.58% at 95% confidence.  For questions asked in just Democratic districts, the margin of error = +/- 4.38% at 95% confidence.

[2]  See: David Wasserman, “House Overview,” Cook Political Report, June 20, 2013, Stuart Rothenberg, “Is the Senate More Volatile Than the House in 2014?” Rothenblog, June 24, 2013.

Share This Article

More From Battleground Surveys