Skip to main content

Should poll give GOP hope for 2014? Not yet

By Timothy Stanley
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tim Stanley: CNN poll shows GOP is now ahead for 2014 midterm elections
  • He says it shows voters react to events, in this case Obamacare snafus, are volatile
  • He says shutdown hurt GOP, but Christie and Virginia race offered some good news
  • Stanley: Obama coalition not inviolable; voters fed up with him and Congress, will shift

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- A new CNN poll shows that it's back to a toss-up for the 2014 midterms elections. A month ago, Democrats were comfortably ahead 50-42%. Now the Republicans are marginally ahead 49-47%: a 10-point swing in public opinion.

Of course, the figures don't actually tell us who will win the next round of congressional elections, but they do remind us of a fact that escapes short-termist political punditry: Voters react to events and are liable to change their mind. The rise and rise of President Obama's unbeatable rainbow coalition is not a historical inevitability but the product of temporary trends.

To recap, the story a few months ago was that the Republicans had proved themselves incapable of governing wisely and, therefore, of winning elections. By trying to use the shutdown to force a delay in the further implementation of Obamacare, they were accused of putting partisanship before country, of pushing America to the brink of destruction just to humiliate Obama.

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

Their humiliation when the shutdown ended was shown in polling across all demographics. Eight in 10 voters disapproved of the shutdown, including two in three Republicans or independents who lean Republican.

But Democratic triumphalism was short-lived. The latest polling showing a turnaround was prefigured by two election results that showed residual conservative strength. In one, Chris Christie won a massive 2-1 victory that saw him make significant inroads into groups thought to be beyond the right's reach: women, Hispanics and African-Americans. In another, an unpopular ultraconservative Republican, Ken Cuccinelli, lost his gubernatorial race in Virginia but only by a small margin, despite being hugely outspent.

Christie's win was probably driven by his personal appeal to voters, but while only 27 percent saw the health law as the top issue, the outcome of the Virginia contest may well have been influenced by public annoyance over the botched rollout of the Obamacare exchanges. And it would be entirely justified by the trouble with the website and the disappointing discovery that millions could lose their existing coverage in spite of what the President repeatedly -- repeatedly -- told them.

Poll: Obama's approval hits all-time low

In other words, while the public turned against the Republicans over the shutdown, they just as easily - and quickly - turned against the Democrats over health care. Crucially, the health care issue has a more direct impact upon their lives, which means its long-term resonance is likely to be greater. Obama's approval rating is now at its lowest since he took office, which also confirms the scale of the disaffection, and gives hope to the GOP.

The conclusion at the National Journal is that, "Race-by-race polling conducted over the last month has painted a grim picture of the difficult environment Senate Democrats are facing next year."

Of course, this doesn't mean things can't swing back the other way. The key word in all this data seems to be "volatility." Voters are fed up with Congress and disappointed in Obama. Who ends up benefiting from the misery will be down to events and good timing.

Either way, the idea that Barack Obama established a new New Deal coalition in 2012 that can't be broken by conservative politicians is clearly nonsense.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT