WASHINGTON — If anyone is as scorned as much as Democrats these days, it’s Republicans — the very party that may recapture the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate in November’s midterm congressional elections.
Yet Democrats face a problem, even as they try exploiting Republicans’ unpopularity by warning against letting them run Congress. People who dislike Democrats seem ready to vote in greater numbers than those who dislike Republicans.
In an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, 60 percent disapprove of the job congressional Democrats are doing — yet 68 percent disapprove of how Republicans are performing. While 59 percent are unhappy with how Democrats are handling the economy, 64 percent are upset by the Republicans’ work on the country’s top issue. Just over half have unfavorable views of each party.
Most say President Barack Obama isn’t cooperating enough on the economy; yet even more accuse Republicans of the same thing. Former President George W. Bush and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — the only two Republicans the AP-GfK Poll tested — are both viewed negatively by more than half in the survey, worse than Obama’s marks. And people overwhelmingly fault Bush more than Obama for the recession.
Hoping to burnish their image, House Republicans unfurled a campaign document last week proposing tax and spending cuts and other broad ideas for reviving the economy. Democrats have been on the offensive, too, warning that a Republican-run Congress would return the country to the days of government shutdowns and attempts to privatize the Social Security federal pension system.
Despite the Republicans’ weak report card, registered voters divide evenly over which party’s congressional candidate they support. That expands to a slight Republican edge among likely voters, reflecting a deeper interest that Republican supporters express in the Nov. 2 elections.
The explanation, according to one political scientist who has studied voters’ behavior: Most people don’t view elections as a choice between two competing futures, as Democrats hope they will. Instead, Stanford University professor Morris Fiorina said they tend to focus on the present — which today means their deep discontent over the job Obama and the Democratic-led Congress have done to rescue the economy.
“People are saying, ‘We don’t like what we have, we’re going to throw them out and we’re going to trust that they’re going to read the signals right and do something different,’” Fiorina said.
Reflecting that discontent, 54 percent who strongly dislike Democrats in the AP-GfK Poll express intense interest in the election, compared with just 40 percent of those with very negative views of Republicans. Extreme interest in the campaign is expressed by nearly 6 in 10 saying their vote in November will signal their opposition to Obama. Only about 4 in 10 say they want to show support for the president with their vote.
Overall, 49 percent of those supporting their Republican congressional candidate are very interested in the election, compared with 39 percent of those backing the Democrat in their local race.
Still, the public’s generally dim view of Republicans gives Democrats some hope of blunting what could be big Republican Election Day gains. That optimism has been buttressed by some candidates Republicans have chosen, such as Delaware Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell, who faces allegations of misusing campaign funds and has espoused conservative social views that critics call extreme.
“As Republicans take the spotlight, voters become more focused on what they don’t like about the (party),” said Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin.
Republicans say that won’t work because midterm elections are usually about the party in power.
“It is awfully hard to change the subject,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger. “And right now the subject is big picture things like the economy and jobs, taxes and spending, the health care bill” and big government.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Sept. 8-13 and involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 randomly chosen adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.