Because of a mediocre economy and the president's missteps, the GOP is gaining ground on the Democrats. But the shift does not reflect any skill on Republicans' part, and they could blow it by doing stupid things such as allowing a government shutdown or a default.
Neil King writes at The Wall Street Journal:
The Republican Party is gaining a public-opinion edge on several key issues ahead of the 2014 elections, as Americans question President Barack Obama's leadership on Syria and worry about the country's overall direction, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.
Republicans are now rated higher than Democrats on handling the economy and foreign policy, and the GOP's lead has strengthened on several other issues, including dealing with the federal deficit and ensuring a strong national defense.
On topics such as health care, Democrats have seen their long-standing advantage whittled to lows not seen in years.
The poll also reflected unease over the economy. Just 27% of Americans think the economy will improve over the next year, the lowest since July 2012, while nearly two-thirds think the country is on the wrong track.
The public tilt on several issues in favor of the GOP, particularly among independents, comes as Mr. Obama's own job-approval rating has hovered around 45% for three months, a tenuous place for a president trying to build support for likely battles with Congress over possible military action in Syria, a proposed overhaul of immigration law and the budget.Charlie Cook writes at National Journal:
"There is no question that a president below 45% job approval starts having a little more difficulty with the bully pulpit," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the survey with Democratic pollsters Fred Yang and Peter Hart.
Stepping back, midterm elections are, more often than not, referenda on the White House occupant. While the president’s name is not on the ballot, voters usually register their approval or disapproval of the administration through their votes for Congress. Obama’s job-approval ratings are currently in the low- to mid-40s, roughly where George W. Bush’s were at this point in his second term (his later dropped as low as 31 percent). Obama’s disapproval ratings are running just above his approval ratings—never a good sign—but the president’s numbers are not yet radioactive.
The other relevant political axiom to keep in mind is that Americans often vote their pocketbooks, based on their perceptions of how the national economy is doing, how they are doing, and whether they are seeing the economy through a hopeful or a pessimistic lens. The U.S. economy, as measured by real gross domestic product, grew at a very healthy pace of 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2012. However, for the remaining three quarters of last year and first two quarters of this year, the recovery did not proceed nearly as steadily: Growth ranged from as low as one-tenth of 1 point in the fourth quarter of last year to 2.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. Growth is not at the pace that you would want coming out of the longest, deepest, and most diffuse economic downturn since the Great Depression.