One of the greatest fears facing republican strategists in the 2006 election is that the decline in George W. Bush’s approval ratings during the past few years is going to drag fellow republican incumbents down with him. While not all of Bush’s rankings are in the red (his approval rating on the war on terrorism still eclipses 50% in most polls), it is true Bush’s numbers are much lower nearly across the board from two years ago.
However, in the Upper Midwest, several prominent republican incumbents are not feeling the bite of the oncoming cold Bush winter. While newer republican faces in statewide elections might face a tougher hurdle in winning their respective race due to the Bush drag, seasoned incumbents appear to be coasting and are as beloved by their constituencies as ever—whether they are up for reelection in 2006 or not.
For example, in the heavily republican state of South Dakota, Bush’s numbers have tumbled drastically from a net +27 approval rating (54-27) in November 2003 to just a net +1 (41-40) in July 2006 (KELO-TV / Argus Leader Poll).
However, the net approval rating of newly elected South Dakota republican US Senator John Thune has actually increased from a net 21 points in May 2005 (56-36) to a net 28 points in September 2006 (62-34) (SurveyUSA). Thune’s favorability rating has also risen from a net 19 points (50-31) in October 2002 to a net 23 points in July 2006 (Argus Leader). The approval rating of South Dakota republican incumbent Governor Mike Rounds has dropped only 5 points from a very high 70 to 65 percent during that span (SurveyUSA).
In the purple state of Iowa, Bush’s approval ratings have tumbled 26 points from 67% in May 2003 to 41% in September 2006 (Iowa Poll / Des Moines Register). Republican US Senator Charles Grassley’s approval ratings, however, have not taken the slightest hit, increasing from 70% in September 2003 to 72% in September 2006 (Iowa Poll / Des Moines Register).
These ratings demonstrate no one should be forecasting any grand demise of the Republican Party in 2006. The potential shifting of control of the US House and US Senate is a big deal—but we’re talking about a shifting of just a fraction of seats in each body: 5 or 6 percent would be an extraordinarily high number, and this is likely the ceiling for the Democratic Party come November (15-20 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate). Most long-serving republican incumbents should therefore feel confident in renewing their D.C. apartment leases through 2008.