08/12/2011 10:45 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2011

Gallup Poll: Democrats Begin Campaign Season With Generic Ballot Lead

Following an already bad week of polling news for congressional Republicans, a new USA Today/Gallup poll finds that Democrats have taken the lead on the first generic congressional ballot poll of the 2012 campaign season.

The poll found that Democrats now have a 51 percent to 44 percent lead over Republicans among registered voters when asked which party's candidate they would vote for if elections for Congress were being held today.

The 7-percentage-point lead on the new poll isn't as strong as the Gallup polls that led up to the major Democratic swing elections in 2006 and 2008 (Gallup says Democrats averaged 11-point and 10-point leads in polls before those elections), but it was much better than most Gallup polls leading up to the 2010 Republican victory, which showed near-ties or Republican leads among registered voters.

Forty-two percent of respondents said a tea party endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidate for Congress, while only 23 percent said that would make them more likely, according to the poll. Among independents, 25 percent said that would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, and 38 percent said less likely. Surprisingly, while 44 percent of Republicans said they would be more likely to vote for a tea party endorsed candidate, almost as many (42 percent) said that such an endorsement would make no difference to them.

Since this is Gallup's first generic ballot poll since the 2010 election, this poll alone cannot pinpoint a cause for the Democratic advantage. Other polls taken in the last month suggest that the debt ceiling debate hasn't had a significant impact on the public's intentions.

A poll conducted earlier this week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling for DailyKos.com and the SEIU found Democrats leading Republicans by a 7-point margin when asked if they would rather that more Democrats or Republicans be elected to Congress in the next election. Their previous poll on that metric, taken in early July, found that Democrats held a 6 point advantage.

Surveys by Rasmussen Reports, which have continued to show a Republican advantage on their generic ballot question, have not shown a significant change in Republicans' lead over the past month.

The new poll was conducted August 4-7 using live interviews among 1,204 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The full results are available here.