Washington (CNN) – With crucial congressional primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania less than a week away, a new poll reveals trouble ahead for incumbents, and suggests that the Republican party may be well positioned to capitalize on intense voter distrust directed at Washington.
When likely voters were asked in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Thursday which party they'd prefer to control Congress, equal numbers – forty four percent – supported each party.
The move represents a significant shift from April 2008, when during the run-up to President Obama's election, 49 percent said they would prefer Democratic control, while Republicans garnered only 34 percent.
Republican gains may be buttressed by feelings of anti-incumbent voter anger that have swept the country this year.
In just the last week, two congressional veterans have been bounced from their parties' November tickets. Sen. Bob Bennett, a three-term Senate veteran failed to advance from the Utah GOP convention on Saturday, and on Tuesday, West Virginia Democrats dispatched Rep. Alan Mollohan in that state's Democratic primary.
And likely voters have a strong anti-Washington bent: when asked if they trust the government in Washington to do what is right, 31 percent of survey respondents said they "almost never" do. Only eleven percent answered that way when the same question was asked in October 2009.
"There's no question, there's at this point an anti-incumbent mood," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thurday. "But I have confidence that my members know how to speak, communicate with their districts, and I wouldn't tell them to do anything less than work as hard as they possibly can, assume nothing, but don't be dragged down by assumptions that may or may not apply to them."
The current political atmosphere has been compared to that of the 1994 mid-term election in which Republicans swept to power in the House of Representatives. Democrats had controlled both branches of Congress and the White House, but Republicans were able to gain significant traction with the "Contract with America."
But the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates that the recent rise in support for the GOP may stem from strong anti-Washington sentiment, rather than enthusiasm among voters for Republican candidates.
The poll reveals that only 31 percent of likely voters who said they prefer GOP control of Congress feel that way because they support the Republican Party and its candidates. Instead, 64 percent say they prefer a Republican majority because they oppose Barack Obama and Democratic candidates.
Overall, only 30 percent of respondents say they feel positive about the Republican Party, a number that lags behind the 37 percent who feel positive about the Democratic Party.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey of 1000 adults by phone has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent and was conducted between May 6 – May 10.