July 1, 2010

Voting Intentions Even, Turnout Indicators Favor GOP

Overview

With four months to go before Election Day, voting intentions for the House remain closely divided, and neither party has gained or lost much ground over the course of 2010. However, Republicans are much more engaged in the coming election and more inclined to say they are certain to vote than are Democrats. This could translate into a sizable turnout advantage for the GOP in November that could transform an even race among registered voters into a solid victory for the Republicans.

Fully 56% of Republican voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in previous elections – the highest percentage of GOP voters expressing increased enthusiasm about voting in midterms dating back to 1994. While enthusiasm among Democratic voters overall is on par with levels in 2006, fewer liberal Democrats say they are more enthusiastic about voting than did so four years ago (52% then, 37% today).

The Republican Party now holds about the same advantage in enthusiasm among its party’s voters that the Democratic Party held in June 2006 and the GOP had late in the 1994 campaign. Moreover, more Republicans than Democrats are now paying close attention to election news (64% vs. 50%). At this stage in previous midterms, news attentiveness was about the same for voters in both parties.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 16-20 among 1,802 adults and 1,496 registered voters reached on cell phones and landlines, finds that the Republicans also continue to hold a substantial advantage in the proportion of their party’s voters who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote. Currently, 77% of Republican voters say they are absolutely certain to vote compared with 65% of Democratic voters.

The new survey finds that 45% of registered voters say they support the Republican in their district while the same percentage favors the Democrat. While Democrats have a substantial advantage among the least engaged group of voters – young people – Republicans have a large advantage among the age groups that are most committed to voting – those 50 and older.

Voters younger than 30 favor the Democratic candidate in their district by a wide margin (57% to 32%). Yet only half of young voters say they are absolutely certain to vote. Voters ages 50 and older favor the Republican candidate in their district by double digits (11 points) and roughly eight-in-ten (79%) say they are absolutely certain to vote.

In June 2006, Democrats held significant leads among both younger and older voters. Their advantage among voters under 30 was about the same as it is today (56% vs. 36%), but they also held a 14-point lead among voters 50 and older (52% to 38%).

The GOP also is benefiting from a change in voting preferences among independents. Currently, Republicans have a slight edge over the Democrats among independent voters (44% to 36%). At this stage in 2006, independents backed the Democratic candidate in their district by a wide margin (47% to 32%).

Equally important, independents who say they will support the Republican candidate this November are much more engaged than those who favor the Democrat in their district. This pattern is evident across several measures – enthusiasm about voting, attentiveness to campaign news and intention to vote.

More than half of independent voters (55%) who back the Republican candidate in their district are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year; that compares with 36% of independents who prefer the Democratic candidate. While 63% of independent voters who favor the GOP candidate are closely following news about the election, just 48% of independents who support the Democratic candidate say the same. And 77% of independent voters who support a Republican say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 62% of independents who back Democrat.

The 2010 Electoral Landscape

In many ways, the 2010 campaign is shaping up as a mirror image of the midterm election four years ago. In June 2006, more Democratic than Republican voters said national issues would have the biggest impact on their vote. Anti-incumbent sentiment also was much stronger then among voters who planned to vote for a Democratic candidate than among those voting Republican.

This year, more voters who plan to vote Republican than those who intend to vote Democratic say national issues will make the biggest difference in their vote for Congress (by 43% to 34%). And fully 44% of Republican voters oppose their own member’s reelection, compared with just 22% of Democratic voters. In June 2006, these figures were nearly reversed (39% of Democratic voters vs. 22% of Republican voters).

The issue of which party controls Congress is as big a factor today for Republicans as it was for Democrats four years ago; 66% of those planning to vote for a Republican say the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote, compared with 57% of Democratic voters. Four years ago, 68% of Democratic voters cited party control of Congress as an influence on their vote as did 55% of Republican voters.

Barack Obama is not as big a negative factor for Republican voters as George W. Bush was for Democratic voters four years ago. Currently, 52% of Republican voters think of their vote as a vote against Obama. In June 2006, 64% of Democratic voters said that about Bush. And there are now more pro-Obama Democratic voters than there were pro-Bush Republican voters four years ago (44% vs. 34%).

As was the case in 2006, voters take a dim view of both parties’ congressional leaders – just 34% of voters approve of the job performance of Democratic leaders while 31% approve of the job of GOP leaders. While Republican voters are highly enthusiastic about the election, they are not very impressed with the party’s congressional leaders. Just 48% of voters who favor a GOP candidate in their district approve of the job of Republican congressional leaders while 43% disapprove. Far more Democratic voters (63%) approve of the job their party’s congressional leaders are doing.

Somewhat fewer voters say that Congress has accomplished less than did so in June 2006 (35% today, 45% then). But Republican voters are currently about as critical of the accomplishments of the current Congress (52% accomplished less) as Democratic voters were four years ago (57%).

Looking Ahead to Nov. 2

Fully 72% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters expect that the GOP will do better than it has in recent elections. This is similar to Democratic expectations during the 2006 election. In June of that year, 62% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters anticipated that their party would make gains – a figure that grew to 72% by the end of the campaign.

However, Democratic voters this year are not particularly pessimistic about the election: 29% expect the Democrats to do better in this year’s midterm, far more than the percentage of GOP voters who said that four years ago (16%). Nearly half of Democratic voters (48%) expect the party to do about the same this fall as in recent elections, while just 18% say it will do worse.

The optimism of Republican voters about their party’s chances this fall is one factor – though hardly the only factor – boosting their enthusiasm about voting. Among the voters who favor the Republican candidate in their district and expect the party to do better than in recent elections, 63% are more enthusiastic about voting. That compares with 45% of voters who plan to vote Republican and expect the party to fare about the same as it has in recent elections.

The high level of enthusiasm among Republican voters also is linked to strongly negative opinions about Barack Obama. Fully 62% of Republican voters who think of their vote as a vote against Obama are more enthusiastic about voting than in previous elections. By comparison, fewer than half (45%) of those who say Obama is not a factor in their vote are more enthusiastic about voting. There is a similar gap in enthusiasm between Republican voters who say party control of Congress is a factor in their vote and those who do not (60% vs. 45%).

Republican voters who agree with the Tea Party movement – about half of all GOP voters – also are more enthusiastic about voting this fall than are Republican voters who have not heard of the Tea Party or have no opinion of the movement (66% vs. 45%).

GOP Image Still Weak

Despite the Republican Party’s favorable electoral prospects, its image with the public is still relatively weak. The public views the Democratic Party as more concerned about the needs of “people like me,” more able to bring about needed change, and as governing in a more honest and ethical way.

These opinions are little changed from February of this year. The Democratic Party’s lead on some traits is smaller than it was in October 2006, near the end of the previous midterm campaign. At that time, 55% viewed the Democrats as more concerned about the needs of average Americans, while just 27% said the GOP was more concerned.

Notably, the Republican Party holds a slight edge over the Democratic Party as better able to manage the federal government. Currently, 41% choose the Republican Party while 37% choose the Democratic Party. In October 2006, the Democratic Party held a 10-point lead as the party better able to manage the government (44% to 34%).