According to CNN poll released today the Democrats have now taken a four-point lead (50% to 46%) in the generic congressional ballot. For those unfamiliar with the generic ballot, it asks respondents whether they plan on voting for a generic Democrat or generic Republican in the next election. Right before the 2010 election CNN had Republicans with a six-point lead in the generic ballot, and the GOP subsequent gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives. The Democrats need to only gain 25 seats to take back the House in 2012, something that seems more attainable given the CNN poll and others that have been released over the previous few weeks.
The CNN poll could be dismissed as an outlier if it did not reflect a trend shown in other polls. Rasmussen Reports now has Democrats trailing by only three points (38% to 41%). That number is significant since Rasmussen typically leans Republicans. According to an analysis done by Nate Silver of the New York Times, Rasmussen was bias in favor of Republicans by an average of four points last year. A Real Clear Politics average of five different polls now has Democrats with a slim lead (43.2% to 43.0%) over the Republicans. At the very least the polls show that Republicans have lost the fairly significant advantage they had in 2010 which allowed them to gain so many seats.
There are different theories about what is causing the drop in the polls for Republicans.
First, since coming into office the GOP has focused a lot on the issue of abortion after promising to focus more on fiscal issues. The focus of the fight over the federal budget was largely centered on a provision to strip funding for Planned Parenthood. Democrats have argued that the Republicans have spent more time on the issue of abortion than job creation since taking over the House.
The GOP has also voted for some very large spending cuts which affect popular government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The most significant of these moves was the vote for the plan of Rep. Paul Ryan, which turns Medicare into a voucher program starting in 2021. The Ryan plan passed with no Democratic votes and all but six Republicans voting for the plan. Since voting on the Ryan plan Republicans have faced constituent wrath in town halls, and the GOP has not all but abandoned the idea of changing Medicare so radically.
Finally, the Democrats also may have been indirectly aided by the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound which was ordered by President Obama. Some believe the Obama raid took away the Republican advantage in the area of national security.