Democrats a month ago held a 50%–42% advantage among registered voters in a generic ballot, which asked respondents to choose between a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district without identifying the candidates.That result came after congressional Republicans appeared to overplay their hand in the bitter fight over the federal government shutdown and the debt ceiling.But the Democratic lead has disappeared. A new CNN/ORC poll indicates the GOP now holds a 49%–47% edge.
This is big news. In 2010 the GOP trailed by six on the generic ballot question and picked up 60 seats, but now it holds a lead on the generic ballot. Democrats, in other words, have taken a greater hit from the health care fiasco than the GOP did from the government shutdown. Things could still turn around before November 2014, and in the meantime there will probably be various mini-surges in public support, website functionality, and other areas.But the terrible first impression of the law has been deeply damaging, and Democrats will have a hard time putting it behind them. Part of what’s happening is that voters unhappy with the slow economic recovery are probably feeling the health care mess as a trigger event that finally convinces them that the Obama administration has been a disappointment. And there’s going to be enough noise from the continuing cancellations, doc shock, and rate shock—whether history ultimately considers them speed bumps or signs that the wheels were falling off—to sustain much of the anger the rollout has generated.That anger could have two consequences next fall: upscale voters turn out more in midterms, and their turnout is going to be higher than usual because of the intensity of their feelings about health care. As the CNN poll notes, upscale voters are the ones least likely to be affected by good news about the uninsured who the law ends up helping, so the spikes and network restrictions affecting them directly could wind up being more determinative of their position on the ACA than whatever ends up happening with those previously uninsured.Things change, but right now the outlook favors bad weather.