WASHINGTON (CNN) — Eight weeks before the midterm elections, a new CNN/ORC International poll shows that voters in key geographic regions favor Republican candidates heading into November, highlighting significant challenges for Democrats trying to protect half a dozen vulnerable Senate seats and ultimately control of the chamber.
Equally concerning for Democrats is that the GOP has a 15-point advantage with independent voters on the generic ballot, and Republicans have an edge at this point in supporter enthusiasm.
While Republicans are all but assured of maintaining a healthy majority in the House, the GOP needs a net gain of six seats to control the Senate and its committees that oversee the Obama administration. Should the GOP control Capitol Hill next year, it would be positioned to direct the legislative agenda and influence President Barack Obama’s final two years in office.
Because of this, Democrats are desperately trying to protect at least five incumbents in Southern or heavily rural states such as Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and North Carolina as well as an open seat in Iowa. Most of these races are considered tossups or the GOP has a slight advantage, according to state polling and analysis by independent political handicappers. Meanwhile, there is widespread belief that three other open Democratic seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia have already been lost to Republicans — putting the GOP within striking distance of the net gain of six seats needed to take the Senate majority.
Assuming Republicans maintain control of the House — Americans are split over which party should have control of the Senate with 46% supporting a Democratic majority and 42% backing GOP control.
It is a different story in the South where a majority of voters, 51%, seek a GOP controlled Senate next year, perhaps making life difficult for Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.
At the same time rural voters also want to see a GOP-controlled Senate by a 48%-37% margin that could have significant implications for Democrats in Alaska and Colorado.
Overall, Americans are angry with Capitol Hill, as a whole, with a whopping 83% saying they disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, while 65% describe it as the “worst Congress of their lifetime.” The current approval rating for Congress is 14%, just four points higher than the all-time low of 10% in a September 2013 CNN/ORC Poll.
This might explain why voter enthusiasm has dropped off significantly since the last midterms in 2010 — particularly among Republicans. Four years ago, 53% of Republicans said they were enthusiastic or very enthusiastic about voting, that number has now dropped to 37%. In 2010, 30% of Democrats were enthusiastic about voting — fast forward four years and that number has decreased two points.
Despite the drop-off in voter enthusiasm from 2010, the GOP has an advantage in this category, according to the poll. And other data points show that Obama will not be helpful to many of the endangered Democrats seeking re-election. The CNN/ORC poll shows that 52% of registered voters would support a candidate for Congress who opposes Obama, while 39% would support a candidate that backs the president.
Democrats are hoping that candidates in Kentucky and Georgia are able take back GOP held seats, which would help the task of keeping the GOP net gain under six seats a lot easier.
As for the overall electoral mood for the House, the GOP holds a 49%-45% edge over Democrats in the generic ballot question of which party would you vote for in your congressional district.