Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

September 8, 2007 7:16 PM

2008 Congressional Campaign

In six national surveys taken after Congress had recessed for the month of August, the average job approval rating for Congress was 22%, with disapproval at 68%.  [Polling Report, 8/6-8/22/07]

The 18% approval rating recorded by Gallup in mid-August was the lowest since it began rating the Congress in 1974.  The only other time in which this low an approval rating was scored was in March 1992, at the time of the House banking scandal.

The disapproval rating of 76% in August was the 2nd highest recorded, the low point of a 78% disapproval rating coming in March 1992.  [The high point for Congressional approval came after 9/11, when its approval rating hit 84% in October 2001.]

The primary reasons for the high level of disapproval have to do with inaction vs action as reflected in a more recent Gallup poll.

Respondents were given the opportunity to express in their own words the reasons why they disapprove of the Congress.  6 reasons hit double digits: Not doing/passing anything (19%); Not making progress in ending the war in Iraq (16%); Need to pay more attention to the needs of the people (14%); Too partisan/Party politics (11%); Too beholden to special interest/lobbyists (11%); Need to stand up to the president more (10%).  [Gallup 8/07]

At the time the Democrats took back control of Congress in November 2006, the approval rating of Congress stood at 26%,
disapproval at 63%.

At this time in 1993, preceding Republican takeover of control of the Congress in 1994, approval stood at 23% approval, 69% disapproval.

As noted earlier, only 14% have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in the Congress as an institution.

Yet in July, notwithstanding the fact that the Democrats have been in charge for 8 months, when the NBC/WSJ tested 20 different issues on the question of which Party would do a better job, the Democratic Party was picked by respondents on 16 of the issues, including dealing with global warming, healthcare, gas prices, energy policy, education, homeownership, the economy, Iraq, immigration, ethics in government, taxes, China, improving America's standing in the world, reducing the Federal deficit, controlling government spending, and protecting America's interest on trade issues.

Republicans are seen as likely to do a better job on dealing with the war on terrorism, promoting strong moral values, dealing with homeland security, and promoting a strong military.

There is a further apparent inconsistency between the low rating of the Congress and the ratings that are given to the Democrats in Congress as a group and the Republicans in Congress as a group.

Democrats in Congress have an approval rating of 46% and Republicans in Congress have an approval rating of 34%.

The U.S. Senate

Democrats   49
Republicans  49
Independents  2   (caucus Dem)

Democrats are working hard to increase their span of control in the Senate, and there are some possibilities.  There are no obvious races in which the Republicans are likely to pick up a seat.

Colorado remains the most likely Democratic pickup.  New Hampshire as a possible Democratic pickup is still a possibility if Jeanne Shaheen decides to run.  So far there are no public signs of a possible campaign on her part.

Virginia will certainly be a target for an additional Democratic seat, now that John Warner (R) has announced that he will not seek re-election. Congressman Tom Davis (R) will likely seek the Republican nomination to replace Warner, and there is a possibility that former Governor Jim Gilmore, who early on entered and departed the Presidential race, might decide that this is the race for him.  Former Democratic Governor Mark
Warner, who eschewed a race for President and is often talked about as a possible Vice Presidential pick, will likely enter the race.

Mary Landrieu (D) seems to be a little stronger in Louisiana, with no significant opponent emerging. Tim Johnson (D) of South Dakota is on a path to return to the Senate right after Labor Day.  Once that happens the Republicans will likely gin up an opponent or two in short order. Democrats continue to talk about the Maine race, with Congressman Tom Allen (D) taking on incumbent Senator Susan Collins (R).  This has to be seen as a long shot.

In Alaska, incumbent Ted Stevens (R) has a marginally positive favorability rating, but in polling in a hypothetical Republican primary against sitting Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin (R), he gets beaten.  There are no signs that Palin is thinking about running against him.  Incidentally, there are local
supporters of the Governor who have launched a campaign to draft her as the Vice Presidential candidate on the 2008 Republican national ticket.

Stevens is dealing with a continuing corruption scandal in Alaska in which his name has come up along with that of his son.

The strongest Democratic candidate against him would likely be Mark Begich, the Mayor of Anchorage.

In Minnesota, incumbent Norm Coleman (R) faces the reality that 49% of Minnesotans would consider a new face in next year's election.  He has a negative job rating of 58%.  On the upside for him, he has a strong lead in hypothetical races against his two possible Democratic opponents, Al Franken and Mike Ciresi.

Here is how the 33 Senate elections (12 Democratic incumbents, 21 Republican incumbents) look to me at this time (underlining reflects retirement).  (D=Dem incumbent in office, R=GOP incumbent in office, I=Ind. incumbent in office)

Safe Democratic (9) Leaning Democratic (3) Toss-Up (1) Leaning Republican (6) Safe Republican (13)
Delaware Arkansas Colorado Alaska Alabama
Illinois Louisiana Virginia  Maine Georgia
Iowa South Dakota   Minnesota Idaho
Massachusetts     New Hampshire Kansas
Michigan     North Carolina Kentucky
Montana     Oklahoma Mississippi
New Jersey       Nebraska
Rhode Island       New Mexico
West Virginia       Oregon
        South Carolina

  Democrats Republicans Ind
Seats not up in 2006 37 28 2
Safe in 2006 9 13 0
Leaning in 2006 3 6 0
Total 49 48 2
Toss-ups 2 (2R)    

The U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats 233 (2 vacancies)
Republicans 202

It is still quite early to get a handle on whether the alignment in the House is likely to change in the 2008 election.

In the Democracy Corp compilation discussed previously, Democrats had a 9 point (51% to 42%) edge over the Republicans in a generic congressional ballot.

WW returns again to the Cook Political Report for an assessment of House races.

Solid Dem 201
Likely Dem 17
Lean Dem 15
Total Dem 233
Toss Up 2
D 0
R 2
Lean GOP 15
Likely GOP 19
Solid GOP 166
Total GOP 200

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