House republicans FILE 09292022
CNN  — 

The Democrats’ hope to maintain control of at least one chamber in Congress comes down to Republicans blowing it. For a time, that looked quite plausible because of the unpopularity of the GOP brand at large and Republican candidates in specific races.

But as we’re now less than a week from Election Day, the momentum is clearly on the Republicans’ side and the possibility of a Republican rout has increased.

Why? We’re dealing with a deeply dissatisfied electorate, which almost always means the president’s party is punished by voters.

Take a look at a Gallup poll released on Tuesday. Just 17% of Americans say they were satisfied with the direction the country was going. That’s the worst in any midterm since at least 1982, when Gallup first measured satisfaction in a midterm.

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  • Importantly, this satisfaction with the direction of the country is highly correlated with midterm outcomes in the House. In the midterms when more Americans are dissatisfied than satisfied with the direction of the country, the party that held the White House has lost an average of 33 seats. That jumps to 46 seats in a president’s first midterm.

    If we look at seat totals instead, the party holding the White House ends up with 186 seats on average when more Americans are dissatisfied than satisfied in a president’s first midterm. This would be an over 35 seat loss for Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Never has the President’s party ended up with more than 204 seats when more Americans were dissatisfied than satisfied.

    Not surprisingly, the picture is very different in the three midterms when a plurality of Americans were satisfied. Those three elections (1986, 1998 and 2002) actually averaged a two seat gain for the president’s party.

    Now, I should point out that we’re dealing with generally small sample sizes here. For instance, there are only 10 midterms in total during which Gallup has measured satisfaction levels of the electorate. It’s possible that this year will be different in some fundamental way we don’t yet understand.

    That said, the currently low congressional approval indicates something similar. Approval of Congress is usually low, but not this low. It stood at a mere 21% in Gallup’s poll. That’s tied for the second worst in a midterm since 1974.

    The other first midterms where Congress’s approval rating was south of 25%: 1994, 2010 and 2018. All saw losses of at least 40 seats for the president’s party, which also controlled Congress at those times.

    Perhaps, though, the most important factor to understand why Republicans have momentum is the President’s approval rating. I noted last week that the big question heading into the midterms was whether the Democrats could outrun President Joe Biden’s approval rating.

    His approval in Gallup’s poll stood at 40%, which is the second worst for an incumbent president in a midterm since 1974. It is the worst for a first term incumbent. Biden’s disapproval rating was 56% in the survey.

    No first-term president whose approval rating was below his disapproval rating in a midterm since 1974 has seen his party end up with more than 200 seats in the House.

    Our CNN/SSRS poll out Wednesday morning had Biden’s approval rating at 42% among likely voters and 41% among all adults and registered voters. His disapproval rating is 58% or 59% on all these measures.

    That’s not much different from CNN polling on Biden’s approval rating over the last six months.

    What has changed is the generic congressional ballot, which puts the Republicans ahead of the Democrats for the first time since May. They’re up 51% to 47% among likely voters in CNN’s new polling.

    Why has the generic ballot changed even as Biden’s approval rating has barely budged?

    Republicans are winning a significantly larger share of those who disapprove of Biden’s job performance. In our latest poll, their margin among this group is 74 points on the generic ballot.

    This past summer, right around the time Roe v. Wade was getting overturned, Republicans were up by 51 points among this group. That 23-point jump in support for Republicans among Biden disapprovers mirrors a trend we witnessed in Monmouth University’s polling.

    It’s arguably the clearest sign that voters are moving away from Democrats – where the fundamentals suggest they would be.