Republicans more optimistic than Democrats about 2014 elections

But parties' confidence gap not as wide as in other elections when big shifts happened on Capitol Hill

The U.S. Capitol building during a snowstorm Tuesday.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic voters are getting worried about their party’s prospects against Republicans in the 2014 congressional elections, according to poll results released Friday.

Only 43 percent of likely Democratic voters think their party will trump the GOP in the midterm elections. That’s compared with about 55 percent of Republicans who believe their party will do better, the Pew/USA Today poll found.

But William Galston, who was an adviser to former President Bill Clinton and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution focusing on government, told Al Jazeera he was surprised that the difference in the parties’ outlooks wasn’t bigger.

“I was actually struck by the nearly even balance of the two political parties,” Galston said.

He said he had expected that Democrats’ woes over the Affordable Care Act would have bolstered Republican hopes more.  

“Democrats have noticed that the Republican Party is very unpopular, and Republicans have noticed that the Democratic Party is not much more popular than they are,” Galston said.

Also, the latest Pew figures don’t reflect nearly the stark contrast in confidence that existed before midterm elections in 2006 and 2010, when seismic shifts in congressional seats shook up the balance of power between parties.

In June 2010, Democrats polled by Pew expressed little confidence in their party’s ability to best the GOP, with only 29 percent saying they thought their party would do better. By contrast, a full 72 percent of Republicans foresaw success.

Conservatives’ confidence was well founded. In November 2010, Republicans took back the House of Representatives as high unemployment, a weak economy and the rise of firebrand tea party candidates bedeviled Democrats and President Barack Obama.

It wasn't the first time optimism turned out right.

In November 2006, with Republican President George W. Bush facing a continuing unpopular war in Iraq and criticism for how his administration responded to Hurricane Katrina, Democrats were able to wrest both the House of Representatives and the Senate from Republican control.

Eleven months before, just 16 percent of Republicans thought their politicians would triumph at the polls.

Now, a glitch-plagued debut of Obama’s signature health care law has undercut the public’s confidence in the president — a likely cause of jitters among Democratic voters. At the same time, Republicans have lost ground by pursuing a standoff over the budget that led to a two-week shutdown of the federal government in October.

Poll results released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University found Obama’s approval ratings at just 38 percent — the lowest level of his presidency.

For the first time this year, slightly more people said they planned to vote for Republicans than Democrats, the Quinnipiac poll found.

"A rousing chorus of 'Bah! Humbug!' for President Barack Obama as American voters head into the holidays with little charitable to say about the president," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac institute, said in a news release.

Other evidence shows resounding unhappiness with incumbents in general.

But Galston cautioned against calling the election for either party so soon.

“There’s a lot of water left to go under the bridge before next summer, when the re-election campaigns will start in earnest,” Galston said.

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