The Republican philosophy of limited government and low taxes is popular in the abstract. However, when it comes to specific issues, the GOP is out of step with what the majority of Americans want.
A February CBS News/New York Times poll illustrates the point. For example, 65 percent of respondents favored an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. In contrast, most congressional Republicans oppose any increase in the minimum wage, even a more modest one.
On the federal budget, 65 percent of respondents (including 53 percent of Republicans) agreed that any plan for additional deficit reduction should include a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. However, congressional Republicans insist that any further deficit reduction must be accomplished entirely through spending cuts.
Fifty percent of respondents agreed that there are some good things in Obamacare, although some changes are needed to make it work better. Six percent opined that the law is already working well and should be kept in place as is.
In contrast, only a minority – 42 percent – believed that the law should be repealed entirely. Nevertheless, congressional Republicans have sided with that minority and have made outright repeal of Obamacare the centerpiece of their 2014 election campaign.
Furthermore, they have offered no alternative to provide health insurance to as many Americans at a lower cost.
On immigration, only 27 percent of respondents took the position that those living in the country illegally should be required to leave the U.S.
In contrast, 53 percent stated that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and eventually to apply for citizenship; another 16 percent supported allowing them to stay, but without the right to become citizens. In line with majority opinion, a substantial number of Republican senators voted for the comprehensive immigration reform that passed the Senate in 2013. However, House Republicans are blocking a vote on that bill and also on more limited alternatives.
The CBS News/New York Times poll is not the only evidence of Americans’ disagreement with the GOP agenda.
For example, a March ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 68 percent of respondents considered the Republican Party to be “out of touch” with the concerns of most people; only 28 percent considered the GOP to be “in touch.”
In contrast, respondents split evenly, 48 percent to 48 percent, on whether the Democrat Party was “in touch” or “out of touch.”
In view of these poll results, why are most of the experts predicting a GOP victory in November? There basically are two answers: history and geography.
First, with rare exceptions, the president’s party loses seats in the midterm elections. For example, in the 20 midterm elections beginning in 1934, the president’s party lost an average of almost 28 House seats and almost four Senate seats.
Second, the polls showing congressional Republicans out of step with the majority are based on public opinion in the whole country. What matters most this year is public opinion in individual House districts and in the 34 states in which voters will choose a senator.
Because gerrymandering has made most House seats safe for one party or the other, the Republicans are likely to retain the majority in that body. Furthermore, the Republicans could also win a majority in the Senate. Of the Senate seats on this year’s ballot, seven of those currently held by Democrats are in states Gov. Mitt Romney won in 2012; none of those currently held by Republicans is in a state President Obama won in 2012.
Therefore, if the people of the 34 states electing senators this year support the same party they did in 2012, the Republicans will take control.
Despite history, geography and political pundits, Republicans should not begin their victory celebration just yet.
Americans are unhappy with the failure of Washington to deliver policies that the public favors. In a March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of respondents said that, if it was possible, they would vote in 2014 to replace every single member of Congress, including their own.
Similarly, 68 percent of respondents to the ABC News/Washington Post poll were willing to consider electing a new representative in Congress.
Those responses make election forecasts less reliable than normal. There is still time for voters to decide that it makes no sense to turn over control of Congress to a Republican Party that opposes what a majority of Americans want.
By siding with the minority on major issues, the GOP has opened the door for the Democrats. That door will remain open until Republicans begin to offer reasonable alternatives rather than simply saying “no.”
William Lloyd of Somerset represented Somerset County in the state House of Representatives (1981-1998) and served as the state’s Small Business Advocate (November 2003-October 2011). He writes a monthly column for The Tribune-Democrat.