A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans saying the Republicans in Congress would do a better job than the Democrats in Congress of handling seven of nine key election issues. The parties are essentially tied on healthcare, with the environment being the lone Democratic strength.
The Republicans’ advantage on most issues is an indication of the currently favorable political environment for the party. Of particular note is the parity between the two parties on healthcare, an issue on which Americans historically have viewed the Democrats as superior.
A similar USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in October 2006, just prior to Democrats’ major gains in that fall’s elections, highlights the potential implications of these findings. That poll, which includes several issues measured in the current survey, found the Democrats leading on all eight issues tested at that time, including some usual Republican strengths like terrorism and moral values.
With Republicans now having the advantage on most issues, the party may be poised to make major gains in congressional seats, just as the Democrats did in 2006. Indeed, Gallup tracking of registered voters’ preferences in the 2010 generic ballot for Congress continues to find the Republicans ahead of the Democrats, as it has for the past five weeks.
Republicans’ perceptual advantage on most key election issues reinforces the party’s advantageous positioning heading into the stretch run of the 2010 election campaign. It is not clear whether Americans give the Republicans the edge on these issues because they have confidence in the GOP to make progress in addressing the major problems facing the country, or whether the ratings have more to do with the public’s frustration with the incumbent Democratic Party’s performance to date.
The Democrats’ hopes for improving their fortunes may hinge on convincing voters they have superior plans for jump-starting the economy, the issue of uppermost importance in Americans’ minds. That could be tough to do when, after nearly 20 months of Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House, Americans’ opinions of the economy remain negative and have become more pessimistic in recent weeks.