Brendan Nyhan | October 1, 2009
Topics: Approval Ratings , Favorable Ratings , GOP , House of Representatives , midterm , party brand , Republicans
How weak is the Republican brand right now? This issue came up yesterday when a Media Matters criticized The Hill for failing to mention the GOP's poor polling numbers in a story on the 2010 elections. Similarly, I recently suggested that that the damaged Republican brand might limit the number of seats that the party picks up. But is the party really worse off than previous opposition parties at this point in the election cycle?
As a first cut at the question, I pulled all the relevant polling on approval of the party in Congresss and party favorability from the Roper iPoll database for the periods leading up to the four most recent midterms (1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006). In both cases, the results are consistent, but I'll focus on the favorability questions since Pew and CBS asked comparable questions about party favorables in each cycle.*
The overall finding is simple -- the GOP's standing relative to the Democrats on both measures is worse than any opposition party in the sample. For instance, the Pew data show that the Republicans are currently viewed more negatively than any minority party in the previous four midterms in terms of both net favorables and the difference in net favorables between parties:**
The CBS results (not shown) are even more dramatic. In June, when the question was most recently asked, Republican net favorables were -30% and Democratic net favorables were 25%, which swamps the comparable results from the previous cycles.
In short, there's no question that the GOP party brand is in worse shape than any opposition party in recent memory. The question, however, is whether this difference in party valence will (a) persist through next November and (b) translate into fewer GOP House seats at the polls, especially once we account for the generic Congressional ballot, which should (in principle) take much of this difference into account (see Alan Abramowitz's model, for instance). Those questions remain to be addressed.
* Also, the approval question seems to be less closely related to electoral outcomes -- for instance, disapproval of Republicans in Congress was high in September 1994.
** I chose the survey closest to the current point in the electoral cycle, though the exact date varied. Net favorables are defined as the percentage of Americans who have a favorable view of the party minus the percentage who have an unfavorable view.