Republicans have extended their lead in the generic Congressional ballot to their highest level of the year, according to the latest Rasmussen survey of likely voters.  The overall Republican rating has not gone beyond their year-long high of 44%, but Democrats continue to decline.  Only 37% would vote for a Democrat, giving the GOP a seven-point lead with a year to go before the midterms:

Republican candidates have extended their lead over Democrats to seven points, their biggest lead since early September, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot. And the news gets even worse for Obama among independents:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 37% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. ….

Since late June, support for Republican candidates has ranged from 41% to 44%, while support for Democrats has run from 36% to 40%. Looking back one year ago, the two parties were in a much different place. Throughout the fall of 2008, support for Democratic congressional candidates ranged from 42% to 47%. Republican support ranged from 37% to 41%.

What’s driving this? Surprisingly, it doesn’t appear to the Porkulus stimulus bill passed by Congress. Rasmussen’s survey on that subject shows about an even split between those who believe it has helped, and those who think it hurt (36/34, respectively). With 24% believing that it has done nothing for the economy, it makes a 58% majority who believe it to be bad policy — but the numbers don’t show much in the way of passionate opposition.  Well, at least not yet, anyway.

Consider the responses of independents, the driving force on the Congressional balloting, on both questions. On Porkulus, they split roughly along the same lines as overall polling (32/37/24), only leaning towards hurting the economy by a margin within polling error.  On the generic Congressional ballot, however, independents split more than 2-1 to Republicans, 44/20.

But if independents aren’t particularly exercised by Porkulus specifically, they’re unhappy about fiscal policy and the economy.  They ranked those two issues as the most important for them (22% and 41% respectively), with domestic issues (14%) and national security (12%) taking a distant back seat.  That may explain why independents in Rasmussen’s survey give Barack Obama a whopping 61% disapproval rating, as opposed to 38% approval — a gap of 23 points.

What does this mean for the election?  The more Republicans focus on fiscal policy and the economy, the more likely they will be to win independents in the midterms.  The more Republicans focus on other issues, the less likely they will be to attract independents.  The midterms are ripe for a Republican takeover, at least in the House (the Senate would be much less likely), if they stick to the issues which will unite a broad governing coalition.