September 23, 2010

Independents Oppose Party in Power...Again

Section 1: The Midterm Vote

All year, voters’ preferences in the upcoming midterm elections have been closely divided. That remains the case today – in the new survey, 47% of registered voters say that if the election were held today they would vote for the Democratic candidate or lean to the Democrat, while 44% would vote for the Republican or say they lean Republican.

At this stage in the 2006 midterm, Democrats held an 11-point advantage in the generic congressional ballot (50% to 39%). At comparable points in each of the previous three midterms, preferences were almost evenly split. In September 1994, two months before Republicans would win control of Congress from the Democrats, 48% said they expected to vote for the Republican candidate in their district; 46% said they would vote for the Democrat.

While there is continuing parity in the race among registered voters, the Republican Party holds a seven-point lead among likely midterm voters: Half of them say they intend to vote for the Republican candidate in their congressional district, while 43% say they will cast ballots the Democrat.

Likely Voters Favor the GOP

Those demographic and ideological groups that are more likely to vote also are more likely to vote Republican. These include older voters, wealthier voters and more conservative voters. Groups that are more likely to favor Democrats, including the young and the less well off, also are less likely to head to the polls.

Nearly half of all registered voters (49%) are younger than 50, and 16% are younger than 30. However, due to lower engagement and enthusiasm, those under 50 make up a smaller share (42%) of likely voters, and just 11% of likely voters are younger than 30.

Not only are there fewer younger people in the likely electorate, but the engagement gap between Republican- and Democratic-oriented voters means the Democratic Party’s lead among younger registered voters disappears when the focus turns to likely voters. Registered voters under 50 favor the Democratic candidate by 10 points (51% to 41%), but likely voters under 50 are split almost evenly (48% Republican vs. 46% Democratic). Among voters older than 50, an essentially even race among registered voters, turns into a nine-point Republican lead (51% to 42%) among likely voters. (For a detailed breakdown of registered and likely voters across various demographic groups, see the table on pg.46).

Voters with family incomes of less than $30,000 annually, a strong Democratic group, also comprise a smaller share of likely voters (19%) than of registered voters (25%). The Democrats hold a 12-point lead among likely voters in this income category (53% to 41%), but among registered voters with incomes of less than $30,000 their lead is much larger (57% to 34%).
Those who say they agree with the Tea Party movement make up 29% of registered voters but a larger share of likely voters (36%). Likely voters those who agree with Tea Party plan to vote Republican by 88% to 7%, which is little changed from the margin among registered voters (85% to 10%). Those who have never heard of the Tea Party or have no opinion of the movement make up a smaller share of likely voters (35%) than of registered voters (45%). Democrats lead among registered voters who express no opinion of the Tea Party (by 49% to 37%), but among likely voters who have no opinion the race is about even (45% Democrat/ 44% Republican).

The Enthusiasm Gap

Two key indicators of likelihood to vote are measures of whether voters definitely will cast ballots this November (those who rate their chances of definitely voting at 10 on a scale of 1-10) and whether they have given “quite a lot of thought” to the election.

The GOP’s lead on both measures is the largest for either party in midterm elections dating back to 1994. Among those who plan to vote Republican in the fall, 79% say they definitely will vote, compared with 66% of those who favor the Democratic candidate. And while 64% of those who back the Republican candidate say they have given quite a lot of thought to the election, just 40% of those who plan to vote Democratic say they have thought a lot about the election.

In 2006, voters who supported the Republican candidate were as likely as those who favored the Democrat to say they would definitely vote (70% vs. 69%). Democratic voters were somewhat more likely than those who favored Republicans to say they were giving a lot of thought to the election (53% vs. 47%).

Overall, roughly as many voters now say they will definitely vote (71%) as did so in the fall of 2006 (68%). But there has been a striking increase in the proportion of voters 50 and older who express certainty about voting (82% now, 74% in 2006).

Most of the change has come among those who support Republicans. Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Republican voters ages 50 and older say they definitely will vote, compared with 76% four years ago.

There has been virtually no change in certainty of voting among Democratic voters ages 50 and older. In 2006, 76% were sure they would cast a ballot; this year, 78% say they definitely will vote.

Six-in-ten voters younger than 50 say they definitely will vote, about the same as in 2006 (62%). Fewer voters in this age group who plan to vote for a Democrat express certainty about voting than did so in 2006 (55% today, 64% then), while there has been little change among supporters of Republican candidates (68% today, 64% then).

Fully 81% of non-Hispanic whites who favor the GOP say they definitely will vote, while 68% of whites who favor Democrats say the same. In 2006, there was little difference among white voters in their likelihood of voting by which party they favored. Black non-Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly favor Democrats, are about as certain to vote this year as they were in 2006.

Factors Driving Turnout

Overall, 70% of voters who favor the GOP candidate in their district say they strongly disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president. Among these voters, fully 89% say they will definitely vote. By contrast, only about six-in-ten of the much smaller group of Republican voters who disapprove of Obama’s performance, but not strongly, or approve of his job performance say they will definitely vote.

Other factors are motivating Republican voters this year: More than eight-in-ten of those who agree with the Tea Party movement (88%), say partisan control of Congress is a factor in their vote (85%), see their vote as a vote against Obama (85%), or are conservative (84%) say they will definitely vote. Smaller percentages of Republican voters who do not hold these views say they will definitely vote in November.

Conversely, among voters who support Democratic candidates, nearly six-in-ten (58%) strongly approve of Obama’s job performance. Three-quarters (75%) of Democratic voters who strongly approve of Obama’s performance say they will definitely vote; only about half of Democratic voters who approve of Obama’s performance, but not strongly, or disapprove, say they will definitely vote.

Other factors motivating Democratic voters are disagreeing with the Tea Party movement (79% definitely vote), seeing their midterm vote as a vote for Obama (71%), having liberal views (71%) and saying partisan control of Congress is a factor (70%). But in each case, smaller percentages of Democratic voters who express these views say they will definitely vote compared with Republican voters who express the opposite opinions.

An Electorate Looking for Change

Just as at the start of the summer, voters are in an anti-incumbent mood. Only about half of registered voters (49%) say they want to see their own member of Congress reelected, while a third (33%) does not.

Similarly, just a third (33%) wants to see most lawmakers reelected while 56% say they would not like to see most incumbents reelected. On both measures, opinions have changed very over the course of the past year; and on both measures, the level of anti-incumbent sentiment is as high as it has been in midterms going back to 1994.

At about this stage in the 2006 midterm, 53% said they wanted to see their own representative reelected and 35% said they wanted to see most representatives reelected; in early October 1994, 49% said they wanted to see their own representative reelected and 28% said they wanted to see most members reelected. In the 1998 and 2002 midterms, far more voters wanted to see their own member – and most members of Congress – reelected.

In the current survey, 64% of those who favor Democratic candidates say they would like to see their own representative reelected, compared with 39% of those planning to vote Republican. And while 51% of Democratic voters favor the reelection of most lawmakers, just 16% of Republican voters do so.

Currently, anti-incumbent sentiment is higher among Republican voters than it was among Democratic voters in September 2006, two months before the Democrats took control of Congress. At that time, 48% of voters who backed the Democratic candidate in their district said they wanted to see their own representative reelected (compared with 39% of those voting Republican this year). In September 2006, 25% of Democratic voters said they wanted to see most members reelected (16% of Republican voters say this today).