New poll numbers show Democrats could face trouble on the ballot in 2010, particularly among independents.
A new Gallup survey reveals that for the first time since the 2008 election that more voters say they would pick a Republican candidate over a Democratic candidate. Republicans took 48 percent of voters to 44 percent for Democrats. Independent voters went for the GOP by a 22-point margin.
The poll was conducted during the weekend debate and passage of the $1.2 trillion health care bill in the House and signals that the GOP may be able to capitalize on voter wariness of Democratic initiatives to win back seats it lost during the landslide Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008.
“There are many different forces that are going on at the time and it is always difficult to isolate if there is any single factor that is driving it,” Gallup's editor-in-chief, Frank Newport said. “But clearly one of the most visible things going on right now is the health-care debate, so it is reasonable that it may be having an impact.”
The House-passed bill includes insurance mandates, tax increases, and a government-run health insurance plan. It would expand coverage to 36 million people.
In another Gallup poll taken the same weekend as the health care vote, voters moved further in opposition to President Obama and his party's plans.
When asked whether a new health care bill should be passed into law, 38 percent said they would tell their House member to vote against it, while 29 percent said they would tell them to vote for it.
Among Independents, the difference is sharper, with 44 percent saying they would advise their member of Congress to vote down a health care reform bill and just 22 percent saying they would encourage passing such legislation.
Overall, about a third of those who responded said they weren't certain what to do about the issue.
House Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., intends to begin debate next week, but the bill has yet to be released and many moderate Democrats are skeptical about what little they know.
Republicans believe that public sentiment can block the bill, and they want Reid to post in online before debate begins.
“If every American has a chance to read the bill, it won't have a chance of passing,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said.
Six Senate and 12 House seats belonging to Democrats are considered highly vulnerable next year, including Reid's. Another 21 House and two Senate Democratic seats are ranked as competitive, according to the Cook Political Report.
Democratic campaign committee offices were closed Wednesday and staff did not return e-mail requests for a comment on the latest Gallup figures.
“Democrats own Washington from the White House on down,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain. “This is clearly a sign that the political environment continues to shift, while Democrats continue to offer up politically tone-deaf policies.”