It’s NOT 1994 Redux.

Instead, the current political environment is BETTER now for Republicans than it was at this same point in 1994.  Let’s look at three key data points from then and now:

  • In May of 1994, a Wirthlin Group national survey found 28% said the country was going in the right direction, while 66% said it was pretty seriously off on the wrong track.  Our latest national survey — completed May 11-13, 2010 — found a similar level of pessimisim: 32% right direction/62% wrong track.
  • President Clinton had, according to Gallup, a 51% approve/42% disapprove rating in May 1994.  Today, President Obama (whom pundits claim is better off than Clinton was) has a 46% approve/49% disapprove rating.  (The Gallup 1994 poll was with adults, while the current POS survey is with voters).
  • In May of 1994, the Democrats still had a five point lead on the generic ballot.  ABC News/Washington Post found it to be a 39% GOP/44% Dem score.  Our latest national survey has it at 40% GOP/37% Dem. 

Clearly the opportunity Republicans have now is better than at the same time in 1994.  Just as this cycle, Republican candidates were coming out in droves to run for office — they knew where public opinion was headed before the polls showed it.  Clearly there was still significant movement between May and November for the GOP in 1994, but the trend was set.  It is going to be difficult for the trend to change now.

Looking deeper at our national survey, it’s instructive to look at Independents on these three key measures.  They are closer to Republicans on all three:

  • Independents break 23% right direction/69% wrong track on the mood of the country — a far cry from the +26 optimism of the Democrats.
  • They give Obama a net negative rating — 39% approve/54% disapprove.
  • Independents give the GOP a five point lead on the generic ballot.  While it is only a 25% GOP/20% Dem score, Independents broke heavily to the Dems in 2006 and 2008.

So, what about the comparison of the political environment to 2006, the last time the American electorate flipped control of Congress?  Well, it’s not quite as strong a political environment as it was in May of 2006.  Back then, the mood of the country was 29% right direction/69% wrong track.  President Bush had a 33% approve/61% disapprove rating, and Republicans trailed by 15(!) on the generic ballot.  (While Republicans clearly lost in November, it was not by 15 points.)

So, Republicans have a more favorable political environment at this point in the 2010 election cycle than they did in the wave election of 1994.  However, it is not as favorable as it was in 2006 for the Democrats.  Unless there is a dramatic change in the political environment (and changes in the political environment are usually incremental, not dramatic) the debate over whether 2010 can be another 1994 will be conclusively answered as “yes” on Election night.

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