Today, Democrats hold an astounding 26-point gap over Republicans on that question (though the “leaned” partisan identification is closer — it was D+14 in February of 1992 and is D+12 today). This is not good for Republicans, because voters evaluating an incumbent typically go through a two-step process. First, they decide whether they like the incumbent. If the answer is yes, they generally vote for the incumbent. But if the answer is no, they then proceed to the second question, which is whether the challenger is an acceptable alternative. If they answer to that is yes, they vote for the challenger. If it is no, they vote for the incumbent.
This is a real danger for Republicans – the voters may sour on Democrats by 2010, but this does not necessarily mean that they will have warmed to Republicans so quickly. As we have noted, in 1994, having Republicans in charge of Congress was an unknown quantity, as was having Democrats in charge of Congress for many voters in 2006 (throughout 2005 and 2006, Democrats maintained a net-positive approval in the public’s minds; today Republicans typically receive majority-unfavorable ratings). And so far, the efforts to mount a coherent opposition, build an agenda, and improve the Republican party’s branding have not been impressive. With an unfavorable view of the Republican party, voters may stick with the devils they know and dislike less.