Republicans head toward midterm election in strong position to make House and Senate gains, but still lack the broad momentum needed for the sort of sweeping victories they achieved four years ago, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.
What benefits the GOP is deep dissatisfaction with the direction of the U.S. and with President Barack Obama. The paltry 25 percent who say the U.S. is headed in the right direction is the lowest before a midterm election since 1990, and Obama's approval rating remains low at 42 percent.
What blunts the GOP's ability to capitalize is that voters view the Republican Party negatively by nearly a two-to-one margin—significantly worse than the survey recorded for Democrats. The approval rating for Congress, at 12 percent, makes Mr. Obama's look robust. African-American and Latino voters have also begun a slight rally toward Mr. Obama as the election draws closer.
Mostly importantly, Republicans have not yet built on their advantages by consolidating support among independent voters, who flocked in recent "wave elections" toward Democrats in 2006 and Republicans in 2010. In fact, interest in the election among independents has actually dropped over the last two months. Just 35 percent report high interest in the campaign, down from 42 percent in August.
"The voters are falling into their established patterns," said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducted the NBC-WSJ survey with his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff. Given historical trends in midterm elections, that suggests Republicans will keep and perhaps slightly expand their House majority, and gain ground on Democrats in the Senate.
But it remains far from certain that they will pick up the six seats they need to recapture control of the Senate. McInturff noted that the amount of money Democrats have spent on TV ads represent an indication that their mobilization and turnout operations might allow them "to be build a wall high enough to withstand the tide" against the president's party.