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Measuring Against 1994

Now that President Bush's job-approval ratings have edged up to the high 30s and certain other indicators have also improved a bit for the GOP, are House Republicans in better shape than Democrats were at this point in 1994?

One way to answer is to look at the results of identically worded polling questions asked then and now. Using the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll as a yardstick, we see that at this point in 1994, 32 percent of Americans thought the country was headed in the right direction; in the poll taken June 9-12, 2006, just 27 percent said right direction.

Twelve years ago, 50 percent said the country was on the wrong track. Today, 61 percent say it's on the wrong track. In the final NBC/Journal poll before the 1994 election, 27 percent said right direction, the same as now, and 55 percent said wrong track, 6 points more optimistic than the current result.

At this point in 1994, President Clinton's job-approval rating was 52 percent. In the final pre-election poll, it was 48 percent. Bush's approval rating in the most recent NBC/Journal poll was 37 percent.

Clinton's disapproval rating was 39 percent in the second quarter of 1994 and 43 percent immediately before the election. Bush's disapproval rating is 19 points worse -- 58 percent -- than Clinton's was at this point in 1994.

What about Congress's ratings? At this point in 1994, just 34 percent of those surveyed approved of the job that Congress was doing. That result dropped to 24 percent by the election. Right now, Congress's approval rating is 23 percent.

A fourth indicator is the generic congressional ballot question, asking voters which party they intend to support in their House election. At this stage in 1994, Democrats were ahead by 5 points -- 35 percent to 30 percent -- but they came in 5 points behind in the final pre-election poll, 41 percent to 36 percent. In the latest poll, Democrats are ahead by 11 points, 49 percent to 38 percent.

So, according to the first four basic indicators, things are worse for Republicans now than they were for Democrats at this point in 1994. And in three of those indicators, the GOP's numbers are worse now than the Democrats' were in the final pre-election poll of 1994.

But here's where things get a bit more complicated. At this point in 1994, 34 percent of voters surveyed said their representative deserved to be re-elected; today, 42 percent say it. In 1994, 50 percent thought it was time to give a new person a chance; now, 45 percent favor change. In the final pre-election poll of 1994, 39 percent endorsed re-election while 49 percent wanted a new person. So, anti-incumbent sentiment is weaker today than it was 12 years ago.

The final two indicators are the positive and negative ratings for each party. At this stage in 1994, 41 percent had a positive impression of the Democratic Party, which was the majority party, and 31 percent had a negative impression -- a net positive of 10 points.

By election time, Democrats had a net negative of 1 point, 36 percent to 37 percent. Today, the majority Republican Party has a net negative of 13 points -- 34 percent positive, 47 percent negative, much worse than Democrats saw at either point in 1994.

At this point in 1994, the Republican minority had a net positive of 5 points -- 37 percent positive, 32 percent negative. By November, the GOP's net positive had grown to 11 points, 41 percent positive, 30 percent negative. Today, the Democratic minority has a net negative of 4 points -- 35 percent positive, 39 percent negative.

The Republican Party's standing, as a result, looks worse today than the Democratic Party's looked at this point in 1994, yet Democrats today do not have the positive image that Republicans enjoyed at this stage in 1994.

Although the first four indicators strongly suggest that the overall political climate continues to be awful for the GOP, there's less anti-incumbent fervor than there was 12 years ago, and the Democratic Party's image isn't as positive as the GOP's was back then. All in all, both sides have reason to fret.

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