Three ominous signs for Democrats heading into the 2014 midterm year

December 27, 2013

With just days until the 2014 midterm election year is officially upon us, there are fresh signs of trouble for congressional Democrats.

( AP photo)
(AP)

A trio of findings spells bad news for Democrats in a new CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday: The generic ballot test has broken sharply toward Republicans, voter enthusiasm for Democrats is lower than it is on the GOP side, and President Obama is shaping up as an albatross for candidates who support him.

Let's take a closer look at each one starting with the generic ballot test.

Republicans have opened up a 49  to 44 percent lead over Democrats on the question of which party's candidate for Congress voters would choose in their district. That's a sharp reversal from October, when Democrats led Republicans 50 percent to 42 percent.

The movement on the generic ballot — which tends to tilt toward Democrats in the first place — seems to be explained by the disastrous rollout of Obamacare that dominated much of the fall. What's clear is that the advantage Democrats seized in the wake of the October government shutdown that badly damaged the GOP's image has now been wiped out — and then some.

While the GOP's five-point advantage is wider than other recent polls, which show a tighter race — the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Democrats with a two-point lead — what's clear in all the surveys is that voters are tilting toward Republicans. And for a Democratic caucus that needs to pick up 17 seats to win back the majority, that's disturbing news.

So is their relative dearth of voter enthusiasm. Thirty-six percent of Republican voters say they are very or extremely enthusiastic about voting for Congress. Just 22 percent of Democratic voters say the same thing.

Not only are Democrats making a long-shot push to win back the House majority, they are trying to preserve their Senate majority by preventing Republicans from picking up six seats. If voter enthusiasm is anything like it is now next fall, Senate Democrats could be in for some serious turnout woes.

Making matters worse for Democrats, it appears that the party's leader is in no position to serve as a strong campaign surrogate at this point either. Fifty-five percent of voters in the CNN poll say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes Obama, compared to 40 percent who say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the president.

As we saw with the dramatic shift in the generic ballot between October and December, attitudes can change in a hurry. And its far too soon to declare an emergency for Democrats in 2014.

But headed into a new year, these are hardly the signs the party wants to see.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · December 27, 2013