Independents Trending Toward GOP

National Journal takes a look at some recent polls, and despite Democratic protestations to the contrary, they notice a clear trend:

Three recent polls show the GOP gaining ground on the generic ballot question, starting with an NPR survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) that put the two parties exactly square: 42 percent for each. Independents, however, preferred the GOP, 39-30. Democrats led slightly overall, but trailed even worse among independents, in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll out last week that phrased the generic ballot question in terms of curtailing Democratic power.

The latest Diageo/Hotline data gives Dems a little more breathing room, with the generic Democrat leading 37-32. But the trend line was clear: In January, 46 percent favored the generic Democrat; at the beginning of March, 40 percent did so. Independent voters, who at the beginning of March favored Democrats by 3 points, now lean towards Republicans by the same margin.

If these polls are early indicators of an independent break toward the minority party, it will be doubly surprising given those voters’ continued support for President Obama. Independents were crucial to the party’s success in 2008, going 52-44 for Obama last November and 51-43 for Democratic candidates, according to exit polls.

It’s a long time between now and the midterm elections, but obviously there’s every reason to be optimistic. Democrats are taking comfort in the fact that Obama’s ratings are significantly higher than those of Congress. But voters know that Obama has only been here a few months; they are unlikely to blame him for policies whose effectiveness they question. That’s likely to come a few months down the road, once they recognize that Obama is as much to blame as Congress for the problems in Washington.