Independent voters who powered President Obama to victory in 2008 have deserted his party this year, all but guaranteeing that Republicans will win control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, though analysts said self-inflicted wounds likely will keep the GOP from winning the Senate.
The final pre-election Gallup poll found likely voters preferring Republicans to Democrats 55 percent to 40 percent — a staggering record margin for the GOP that feeds predictions that Republicans could win upward of 60 seats in the House and more than a half-dozen seats in the Senate.
If those numbers materialize, it would mark the third straight election to create massive turnover in Washington, reflecting a spectacularly unsettled electorate desperately in search of politicians who can get things done, said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who ran House Republicans’ campaign committee in the 2000 and 2002 elections.
“You had a dozen years where there’s been no good news for Americans. Most political parties, political institutions, failed them. The dot-com bust, two wars, Katrina, the economic meltdown on Wall Street and foreclosures and high unemployment; real wages have not increased in 20 years,” Mr. Davis said.
All of that has weighed particularly on independent voters, who are poised to ride the pendulum back to the GOP.
“Two years ago, we won independents by 8 percent. We’re now losing them by about 20,” Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat who retired rather than seek re-election this year, said on MSNBC. “And when we lost Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, for goodness’ sake, that should have been a real wake-up call.”
Other Democrats, though, said things are not looking so bad.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who is chairman of House Democrats’ campaign committee, said early voting results suggest that voters are not as discouraged as polls indicate. He predicted that Democrats will not lose the 39 seats that would cost them control of the House, much less lose the five dozen seats or more that some analysts project.
Mr. Van Hollen’s optimism was not shared by the 90 Democratic “political insiders” surveyed by National Journal, 81 percent of whom said the GOP will win the House. Among Republican insiders, National Journal found every single one predicted the party will capture the House.
In the Senate, the chairman of Republicans’ campaign committee, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said he doubts his party will win the 10 seats needed to achieve a majority in that chamber — a 50-50 split, paired with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s tie-breaking vote, would leave the Senate under Democratic control — but said it’s a springboard to two years from now.
“I think we don’t get the majority back, but we come awfully close. And we finish the job in 2012,” Mr. Cornyn said on NBC’s “Today” program.
In the next election cycle, 19 Democrats and two independent senators who caucus with the party will be up for re-election, compared with 10 Republican senators.
Republicans argue that the 2010 elections are a referendum on Mr. Obama’s first two years in office, and on the health care, financial regulation and $814 billion stimulus spending bills he signed into law.
Mr. Obama has spent much of October traveling the country raising funds and campaigning for Democrats, and pleading with voters not to abandon his party after just two years of work.
On Monday, though, Mr. Obama kept a low profile, remaining out of sight at the White House while making phone calls to campaign volunteers in battleground states and taping interviews, including one with radio show host Ryan Seacrest, who also hosts the “American Idol” television program.
Michael P. McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who studies voting trends, said he expects 41.8 percent turnout among the voting-eligible population, which would translate to more than 90 million votes — a record for a midterm election.
Mr. McDonald also said nearly one in four voters will have cast a ballot either by mail or in person before Tuesday.
In Washington and Oregon, the entire vote is conducted early or by mail, while in Nevada and Colorado nearly two-thirds of the votes will have been cast early, Mr. McDonald projects.
“If Harry Reid survives in Nevada, it will be because of early voting,” he said.
Mr. Reid, Senate Democrats’ leader, campaigned Monday with first lady Michelle Obama, facing a strong challenge from conservative Republican Sharron Angle in one of the fall’s marquee matchups.
“I’m not finished fighting the big banks. They know it. I’m not finished fighting the insurance companies. They know it. I’m not finished fighting the oil companies,” Mr. Reid said.
That list of unfinished business underscored another worry for Democrats in Gallup’s polling. Its surveys found that despite passing reams of legislation this year, including overhauling the health insurance system and rewriting financial regulations, the majority party isn’t getting credit from voters for a robust session.
Less than a quarter of voters — 23 percent — said Congress has done more than usual this year, while 37 percent said lawmakers have accomplished less than normal.
If Republicans do win the House but not the Senate, it will be the first time since World War II that the lower chamber has flipped without the upper chamber.
Mr. Davis said that’s more a result of the particular states in play this year, rather than any effort by Democrats.
“The House races are fought in basically red districts, and a lot of Democrats have been hanging out in red districts and voting blue,” he said. “The Senate problem is a lot of the key races — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Washington — these are deep-blue districts.”