The Battle for the Senate: Toss-Up or Just a Race to the Bottom

President Barack Obama.(Photo: Getty)

President Barack Obama.(Photo: Getty)

Today, The Washington Post reported that according to their model with which they ran 10,000 simulations, the race for control of the senate is a tie. It is possible that the Post’s model is flawed, but it is also clear that with less than fifty days until the election, the battle for control of the Senate will be extremely close. A surprisingly competitive race in Alaska and a neck-and-neck contest in Iowa are, according to the Post, the keys to winning the Senate. Articles like this, some based on poll and demographic data or modeling, are common as an election approaches and, frankly, part of the fun of following politics.

The data presented by The Washington Post dovetails well with a public opinion poll published in today’s New York Times. The Times/CBS poll offers slightly better news for the Republicans. Although the poll did not ask questions about specific Senate races, by a margin of 49 percent to 42 percent likely voters indicated they plan to vote for the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives. These numbers are reinforced by other numbers that do not look good for the Democrats. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is now at 40 percent and has been muddled there for the past three months. Additionally, respondents disapproved of how Democrats in Congress were doing their job by a margin of approximately two to one, with only 31 percent indicating their approval. The poll, however, does not offer unequivocal good news for the Republicans, as the public disapproves of how Republicans in Congress are handling their job by a margin of 70 percent to 20 percent.

The overall picture presented by the poll is of an American electorate that is dissatisfied with the President as well as with both parties in Congress. It also portrays an electorate that is not exactly optimistic, with a big majority of 66 percent indicating they believe the country is on the wrong track. The question that captures the mood of the electorate best is one that asks how voters feel about their own member of congress. It is an old adage of politics that people hate Congress but like their own Congressperson. This question has been asked on 16 different occasions since 1990 by the Times. This month only 28 percent report that their congressperson “has performed his or her job well enough to deserve reelection,” lower than in any previous poll.

The election remains close, at least with regards to control of the Senate; and a few votes in a few states will likely decide which party controls the upper chamber of Congress for at least the next two years. The polling data, however, suggest that the election is a race to the political bottom and that we are moving toward an election where, even more than in most years, voters are tired of both parties and that the election is now more about who can be tolerated rather than which party presents a vision or inspires confidence.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell