The inverse isn't true if Trump is elected. In that case, people still prefer a Republican Congress, albeit by a smaller 48-46 margin.
This kind of split preference has happened before, but not with the front-runner. Back in 2008, Americans preferred a Democratic Congress by a 57-37 percent margin if John McCain were elected. Otherwise, though, this is rare. People were about evenly split on who should control Congress if Barack Obama won in 2008 and if George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were reelected in 2004 and 1996, respectively, per Gallup numbers.
The overall result in the new Gallup poll confirms the results of a mid-October poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. Asking a slightly more-detailed question, the margin was 53-40 for Republicans, as I wrote a few weeks back:
The poll asked whether registered voters would be more likely to support a congressional Republican who would be a check and balance on Clinton and Democrats, and 53 percent said they would. Just 40 percent preferred a congressional Democrat who would help Clinton pass her agenda.
So what's going on here? People want Democrats to be in charge, but not completely in charge?
In a word: Yes.
Part of this, undoubtedly, is that people just don't love Clinton. She's leading in the presidential race in large part because Donald Trump is historically unpopular. If this were a referendum on her alone, she would probably lose, given more people dislike her than like her.
But it's also somewhat of a sign of the times, and the fact that the American people will be difficult to please no matter who the president is.
Americans at once dislike gridlock in Washington and don't trust politicians or either party enough to give them the tools to pass their agendas. Given how partisan our politics have become, it's exceedingly difficult for either party to do much unless it's got control of both the legislative and executive branches.
It's no coincidence that the signature legislative achievement of Barack Obama's presidency was Obamacare, which passed in 2010 — during the two years Democrats had full control of Congress and the presidency. Even then, of course, it wasn't easy, and the rancor surrounding its passage helped contribute to GOP's return to full congressional control.
The lack of a preference for a Democratic Congress is even more striking when you consider that President Obama's approval rating is north of 50 percent. People genuinely seem to like what's happening in his administration — but they don't want his successor to have a full mandate going forward.
This appears to be at least part of the reason the GOP's House majority was never really in jeopardy this year. Even in mid-October, when Trump appeared to be imploding in the presidential race, voters weren't rewarding Democrats with a major advantage on what is known as the generic ballot (the question that asks voters whether they prefer a generic Democrat for Congress or a generic Republican).
Back then, I spotlighted the NBC/WSJ poll finding as part of the reason Trump's woes didn't translate into Republicans suddenly tanking; Clinton's front-runner status appeared to make a majority of voters actually want a GOP Congress more — at least, in the abstract.
Of course, that's not a recipe for actually getting things done in Washington. And that will likely only lead to more frustration over Washington not getting anything done.
But one candidate will land in the White House. So, congratulations to the winner.