The Republican Party's successful wooing of several strong candidates for Congress may be giving party insiders reason to hope for a better return at the ballot box next November than they've earned in each of the previous two cycles, but compared with data collected four years ago - at about this point before the 2006 midterm contests - polling continues to portend rough waters ahead for the party of Lincoln.
Over the course of the past two election cycles, Republican affiliation has dropped to its lowest level in more than 25 years, and trust to handle major issues facing the nation has shifted toward Democrats. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, the Democratic party far outpaces the GOP in favorability, with 53 percent viewing the Democrats positively compared with 36 percent for the Republicans. Among independents, it's 48 percent to 36 percent.
And these numbers make 2006 look like a walk in the park.
In June 2005, Democrats and Republicans in Congress held identicial approval ratings - 42 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove - and the parties were near parity in favorability - 49 percent viewed Republicans positively, 51 percent Democrats - and in terms of size - as 30 percent considered themselves Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 34 percent independents. Further, Democrats held only a slim, five-point advantage on handling the nation's top problems (46 percent to 41 percent).
Despite the seeming even splits, there were some signs of trouble for the GOP back then. Half said they were inclined to consider a challenger in their local house race, the first time that had happened since 1997, and party favorability among independents was nearly as bad for Republicans as it is now (39 percent had a favorable view of Republicans compared with 51 percent for Democrats).
The Republican Party's losses in 2006 and 2008 are attributed largely to negative views of then President George W. Bush and the unpopular war in Iraq, and some are pinning their hopes for a 2010 GOP resurgence on an increasingly negative take on President Obama. While Obama's approval rating has declined somewhat since his 100-day-mark high (65 percent, compared with 69 percent in April), it remains well above Bush's at the same stage in his presidency (55 percent) or at this stage in the 2006 cycle (48 percent) - particularly among those crucial independents (65 percent approve of Obama's job performance, compared with 38 percent who approved of Bush in June 2005).