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Photo collage of six Republican members of the House: Dan Benishek, Kerry Bentivolio, Gary Miller, Mike Coffman, Tim Walberg, and Bill Young
Six of the most vulnerable Republicans:
Dan Benishek, Kerry Bentivolio, Gary Miller, Mike Coffman, Tim Walberg, and Bill Young
Last week, the progressive activist group MoveOn commissioned Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling to conduct surveys in two dozen individual House districts held by Republicans, in order to gauge how the ongoing federal government shutdown might affect the 2014 midterm elections. They released the data on Sunday, and they offer positive news for Democrats. (You can find a table summarizing the key findings below the fold.)

MoveOn selected an array of potentially vulnerable seats across the nation, but because not all of these races feature challengers as yet (though most do), they tested the incumbents against the proverbial "generic Democrat." Before even addressing any questions about the shutdown, 17 of these 24 Republicans trail their hypothetical opponents. (Two are tied.) These results appear closely correlated with job approval ratings, as all but two of these 17 congressmen sport negative scores—that is, more voters disapprove than approve of their performance in office.

PPP then asked a trio of questions to elicit voters' feelings about the GOP's attempts to derail the implementation of Obamacare by holding the federal budget and, potentially, the debt hostage:

Do you support or oppose Congress shutting down major activities of the federal government as a way to stop the health care law from being put into place?

Do you support or oppose Congress holding back on increasing the nation’s borrowing limit, which could result in a default, as a way to stop the health care law from being put into place?

Would you be less likely or more likely to support Congressman X if you knew he
voted to support shutting down major activities of the federal government as a way to stop the health care law from being put into place, or does it not make a difference?

In almost every district, respondents said they opposed both tactics on the budget and debt, and they also said they'd be less likely to vote for their congressman if he support a shutdown to block "the health care law" (i.e., the Affordable Care Act). PPP then asked a so-called "informed ballot" question, again pairing each incumbent against a generic Democrat. As you might expect, the messaging contained in the prior three questions helped move the needle against Republicans in almost every case, by an average of 3 net points.

Informed ballots such as these, though, must always be viewed with caution. They represent an ideal environment where one side is able to widely disseminate its preferred message, without pushback or interference from the other side. In other words, a scenario nothing like what you encounter in the real world. That said, though, these polls show that hammering Republicans over the shutdown has the potential to be effective across a very diverse array of districts. And while 3 points might not sound like a lot, seven Republicans and nine Democrats won House races by less than that amount in 2012.

It's also worth noting that, like informed ballots, polling against generic candidates represents a sort of idealized situation as well. In some races, Democrats may not land serious challengers; in others, Democratic candidates may stumble or fail to gain traction. On the flipside, sometimes an actual candidate will perform better than a generic unnamed option because of their strong personal attributes. Early on, when you're more than a year out from Election Day, generic ballots can serve as a helpful metric, but reality will ultimately diverge in most cases.

And while Democrats lead in a tantalizing 17 contests—the exact same number the party needs to regain the majority—don't forget that there are also quite a few vulernable Democrats who will face competitive races of their own as well. Also, as you peruse the table below, one or two results might strike you as outliers. (For instance, I'm a bit skeptical that Dan Benishek is already down 21 points, or that veteran Bill Young starts off behind.)

For now, though, these polls show Democrats with a large number of opportunities next year, but they'll have to work hard to seize them. When these polls were in the field, media coverage of the shutdown was at a fever pitch. Barring the extroardinary, the shutdown will be long over by November of next year, so Democrats will have to keep reminding voters of the damage Republicans were willing to cause just to try to stop Obamacare.

(Note: "O%" refers to Barack Obama's share of the vote in each congressional district in 2012. "Δ" or "delta" refers to the change in net performance from the initial ballot question to the informed ballot question.)

CA-10 51 Jeff Denham 37-37 0 44 44 0 44 48 -4 -4
CA-21 55 David Valadao 50-27 23 50 38 12 50 40 10 -2
CA-31 57 Gary Miller 27-38 -11 39 48 -9 39 51 -12 -3
CO-06 52 Mike Coffman 31-47 -16 41 49 -8 41 51 -10 -2
FL-02 47 Steve Southerland 41-44 -3 43 47 -4 41 50 -9 -5
FL-10 46 Daniel Webster 33-41 -8 45 46 -1 44 49 -5 -4
FL-13 50 Bill Young 33-46 -13 43 48 -5 42 51 -9 -4
IA-03 51 Tom Latham 36-40 -4 43 46 -3 42 49 -7 -4
IA-04 45 Steve King 40-47 -7 45 49 -4 45 49 -4 0
IL-13 49 Rodney Davis 32-41 -9 43 44 -1 42 47 -5 -4
KY-06 42 Andy Barr 38-45 -7 44 47 -3 42 50 -8 -5
MI-01 45 Dan Benishek 33-54 -21 35 56 -21 35 57 -22 -1
MI-07 48 Tim Walberg 33-46 -13 41 49 -8 42 51 -9 -1
MI-11 47 Kerry Bentivolio 28-55 -27 37 53 -16 39 54 -15 1
NV-03 50 Joe Heck 44-43 1 47 44 3 49 46 3 0
NY-11 52 Mike Grimm 45-34 11 47 43 4 45 46 -1 -5
NY-19 52 Chris Gibson 40-36 4 43 44 -1 42 48 -6 -5
NY-23 48 Tom Reed 35-43 -8 44 44 0 42 48 -6 -6
OH-06 43 Bill Johnson 41-35 6 48 38 10 49 41 8 -2
OH-14 48 David Joyce 23-35 -12 43 44 -1 44 47 -3 -2
PA-07 49 Pat Meehan 28-39 -11 40 43 -3 41 47 -6 -3
PA-08 49 Mike Fitzpatrick 42-43 -1 44 46 -2 42 50 -8 -6
VA-02 50 Scott Rigell 42-39 3 45 41 4 43 45 -2 -6
WI-07 48 Sean Duffy 40-46 -6 45 48 -3 45 49 -4 -1

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 03:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Virginia Kos and Daily Kos.

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