Americans are upset with both political parties according to a CBS News/ New York Times poll; however, it shows that Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats going forward. Just over eight months remain before the 2014 midterm elections on November 4. The poll showed that 42 percent of registered voters would select a general Republican in a congressional race if an election were held today – 39 percent would select a Democrat. This is speculative, of course. National polls are not the most precise predictors of congressional elections due to the individual nature and demographics of each district. Nonetheless, the poll slightly favors the GOP.
Although the Republican Party has become bifurcated in nature, they still hold on to a thin majority when it comes to predicting the midterm elections. 86 percent of Republican voters in the poll stated that they would support their party’s candidate in their district. Trailing just behind are Democrats – only 85 percent of registered Democrats would back their party’s candidate. Nevertheless, the real edge lies with independent voters. More of a political preference was given to the GOP with 43 percent of independents backing a Republican candidate over 27 backing a Democratic contender.
While voting speculation still seems to fall upon party lines, the poll suggests that many Americans are still disappointed with the political landscape. Public opinion of both political parties has not altered much in the past 12 months. Even though, the Republican Party has been under the microscope as the party has been subject to infighting and combativeness, some optimism for the future has emerged.
The poll stated that 41 percent of registered Republicans have optimistic views of the nominees of their party. However, around one-third of these voters believe that the nominees are not conservative enough. As part of the nation celebrates five years of the Tea Party, membership has increased to 42 percent of registered Republicans who emphatically state, “Don’t tread on me!” Tea Party politicians and supporters have given a new meaning to fiscal responsibility as well as many other issues upon which establishment Republicans have faltered over the years. One of the underlying differences lies within the fight to increase our nation’s debt limit. Most recently, this was expressed in last year’s October government shutdown which left public spending in limbo for 17 days.
The controversial vote to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government through next year found congressional disapproval among the GOP at 69 percent. The more conservative Tea Party caucus vehemently opposed the measures with 82 percent of the caucus voting against the President’s motion. Although opposing an increase in the debt limit is a philosophical stance against fiscal irresponsibility is in the nature of the more conservative political right, last year’s shutdown greatly injured the credibility and favorableness of not only the Tea Party, but all those who encompass the GOP.
Due to the widespread disenchantment of Congress, Americans also disapprove of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) by a 2 to 1 margin. Moreover, just under half of establishment Republicans disagree of how he is handling the speakership at a 49 percent disapproval rate. The far right-wing holds an even more unfavorable 52 percent against their party’s own Speaker. After last year’s shutdown, rumors emerged about Boehner’s inability to lead that had the potential to harm his future tenure as Speaker.
On the topic of future potential for the political landscape, a majority of Republicans, mostly the Tea Party caucus, are hopeful about the future of the GOP as a party. Less than 40 percent are more discouraged than optimistic. This optimism has led to Republicans stepping out of the political quagmire in an attempt to restructure the way in which the GOP will act preceding the 2014 midterms.
After nearly a week of infighting and leadership stumbles, congressional Republicans have become more focused on sedating the tumultuous relationship between the rank in file and further right-of-center. They are focused on settling their divided ranks in the coming months by advertising bill proposals that are widely-backed by the GOP majority in the House. Comprehensive immigration reform and other big-ticket bill proposals will most likely be tabled until after the midterm elections to allow for progressive action.
Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate have shifted their attention to create stability in the GOP. They’re focusing on rallying behind incumbents and building traction with the base before the kickoff of November midterm election campaigns. The leadership believes it is imperative to quiet interparty rhetoric and be politically effective in the eight months before the elections to hopefully clench seats in the Senate and to hold on to and even gain more than a 17-seat majority in the House.
So, what will be on the docket for the GOP? Republicans will be championing bills that bolster job growth, energy, and regulatory policy. They will be gunning to appeal to the congressional swing voters such as the “bluedog” Democrats and the independents that caucus with the left and those with the right. Although the ramifications of these bills are not likely to capture Democratic support, Republicans may be able to capture enough votes within their majority to begin to transform into a more productive party.
Republicans will avoid controversial bills due to the skepticism about their past policy proposals. In January, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 19 percent of Americans had confidence in congressional Republicans to guide the country in the right direction. Therefore, a softer, less assertive sell on smaller bills can earn back some political capital.
After President Obama’s State of the Union Address, House Republican leaders launched their “small-ball” strategy with a letter addressed to the president identifying four areas on which they could agree and begin talks. These areas included citing job creation, energy development and promotion of natural gas, workplace rules and federally funded research – few items that could incite an interparty insurgency amongst the GOP.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) highlighted the leadership’s approach. “While we will tackle many issues this year in Congress, we will focus on four key areas that demand our immediate attention,” Cantor said in repeating those stated in the letter to the president.
While Americans disapprove of one of the least favored Congresses in history, and political battles plague the country, not all negative public opinion is targeted towards the GOP. The Republican Party, with a slight lead in the polls, has the ability to forward its endeavor by anchoring its base by these public opinion numbers and setting its sights on small, but progressive policy proposals. Tea Party supporters may not bask in the limelight by pushing philosophically conservative issues, but can throw nearly one-third of Congress behind the Republican majority to increase movement in the House. If the GOP can achieve quick, yet subtle policy movement in the House that promotes a non-controversial bill, they may be able to sway the two left-leaning independents in the Senate as well as four moderate Democrats to create a slim majority support.
Americans are still upset about their combative Congress, understandably so. However, Republicans may be able to benefit from the results noted in the CBS News/New York Times poll. While the results may not wholly endow the GOP with forthright sense of action, it is something with which they can build a political comeback. The 2014 midterms are fast-approaching and rhetoric will begin to heat up prior to election day. Nonetheless, with the slight edge in public polls, Republicans have the ability to move forward and turn upset American’s frown upside down.
Editorial By Alex Lemieux