October 23, 2014

As Midterms Near, GOP Leads on Key Issues, Democrats Have a More Positive Image

Far Fewer Democrats See Vote as ‘For’ Obama Than in 2010

Survey Report

GOP Has Edge on Some Major Issues, But Image Woes PersistWith less than two weeks before the midterm elections, the Republican Party holds significant leads on several major issues. Voters say the GOP could do a better job than the Democrats on the economy, and the Republicans hold double-digit advantages on both terrorism and the budget deficit.

However, the Democrats have advantages on a number of qualities and traits – from honesty to empathy and a willingness to compromise. And on some dimensions, the Republican Party is viewed less positively by voters than it was just prior to the 2010 election, when it captured the House.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Oct. 15-20 among 2,003 adults, including 1,494 registered voters, finds that neither party is especially popular with voters as they head into the midterms. The GOP’s favorable ratings are underwater: 39% of registered voters view the party favorably, while 55% have an unfavorable impression. Favorable ratings for the Democratic Party, while better than the GOP’s, are hardly robust: As many voters view the party unfavorably (48%) as favorably (47%).

This year’s elections, like the previous two midterms, will take place against a backdrop of deep public dissatisfaction with national conditions. Just 29% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country; more than twice as many (65%) are dissatisfied. That is on par with levels of dissatisfaction before the 2010 and 2006 midterms. Views of the nation’s economy are far less gloomy than they were four years ago; nonetheless, ratings for the economy remain highly negative, with 78% saying conditions are only fair or poor.

Congressional Horserace Remains Even Among Likely VotersVoter frustration with members of Congress is currently even higher than it was 2010 or 2006. Fully 68% of registered voters say they do not want to see most members of Congress reelected – 14 points higher than in 2010 and 19 points higher than in 2006. And roughly a third (35%) say they do not want their own representative reelected, compared with 32% four years ago and 26% eight years ago.

Yet unlike in those elections, when a single party controlled both the House and Senate, anti-incumbent sentiment now crosses party lines. Republican and Democratic voters are about equally likely to oppose the reelection of most representatives and their own member of Congress.

 new survey finds overall voter preferences have changed little over the past month. As was the case in September, Democrats hold a slight edge among all registered voters – currently 48% support the Democrat in their district or lean Democratic, while 42% favor the Republican or lean Republican. When the sample is narrowed to the 1,126 voters most likely to vote, the race is a virtual tie: 47% support the Democratic candidate, while 46% support the Republican. (For a detailed breakdown of congressional vote preferences, see the detailed .)Republican Engagement Advantage on Par With 2010

As has been the case all year, Republican voters are substantially more engaged in the election than are Democratic voters. And on several measures, the GOP’s advantage is about as great as it was four years ago: Currently, 68% of those who support the Republican candidate in their district have given a lot of thought to the election, compared with 54% who support the Democratic candidate.

More Republican than Democratic voters say they are following news about the election very closely (35% vs. 25%). And, as was the case in October 2010, more Republican voters than Democratic voters say they will definitely vote in the election (77% vs. 70%).

Factors in the Congressional Vote: Obama, Partisan Control of Congress

More Voters See Midterm Ballot as a Vote Against Obama than for HimDespite major events over the past few months – including the emerging threat from the Ebola virus and the military strikes by the United States against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, Barack Obama’s job rating among the public has been little changed. Currently, 43% approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 51% disapprove. Obama had virtually the same job rating in early September (42%) and at the start of the year (43% in January).

Obama continues to be a factor – a negative factor, on balance – for many voters. Currently, 32% of registered voters say they think of their vote for Congress as a vote against Obama, while 20% see it as a vote for Obama; 45% of voters say Obama will not be a factor in their decision.

Obama’s impact was more neutral in the latter stages of the campaign four years ago: in mid-October 2010, 30% thought of their vote as “against” Obama, 27% as “for” him and 39% said Obama was not a factor in their vote.

Fewer Dems Voting For Obama than in 2010; Reps Still Voting Against HimSupport for Obama is driving the vote of fewer Democrats today than in 2010. In the current survey, 38% of voters who plan to support the Democratic candidate in their district say they consider their vote as “for” Obama. Four years ago, far more Democratic voters (53%) said this.

By contrast, a much larger share of Republicans say they consider their vote as a vote against Obama, and they are at least as likely to say this as they were in 2010. Fully 61% of Republican voters consider their congressional ballot as a vote against the president, up slightly from 56% in 2010.

The percentage of Republican voters who consider their vote for Congress as a vote against the president (61%) is comparable to the percentage of Democratic voters in 2006 who considered their vote for Congress as a vote against second-term Republican President George W. Bush (66%).

Control of Congress a Factor for Both PartiesBoth Republican and Democratic voters will head to the polls this November with the balance of power in Congress on their minds. Overall, about equal percentages of those who plan to vote for the Republican candidate in their district and those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate say the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote (67% vs. 64%).

In this regard, 2014 differs from the wave elections of both 2010 and 2006. Four years ago, ahead of the GOP winning a majority in the House of Representatives, more Republican (69%) than Democratic (61%) voters said party control would matter in their midterm vote. In 2006, on the eve of a Democratic takeover of the House, the reverse was true, with more Democratic (71%) than Republican (60%) voters saying party control would be a factor in their decision.

However, while majorities of both Republican and Democratic view partisan control of Congress as a factor, the specifics of which parties control the House and Senate continue to be a mystery for many voters. Overall, 60% of registered voters know that Republicans control the House, while 58% are aware that Democrats control the Senate. Fewer than half of voters (43%) answered both questions correctly. Notably, awareness of which parties have majorities in the House and Senate has not changed since March (45% knew 

Fewer than Half of Voters Know Which Parties Control the House and Senate In another sign that Republican voters are more engaged than Democrats in the 2014 election, Republicans (51%) are more likely than Democrats (40%) to know the majority party in both the House and Senate. The partisan gap in awareness is primarily the result of Republicans’ greater knowledge that the Democrats have the majority in the Senate: 68% of Republican voters know this, compared with 53% of Democrats. There is no partisan difference in knowledge of GOP control of the House (62% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats).

Views of Parties’ Handling of Issues Similar to 2010

GOP Leads on Terrorism, Deficit, EconomyHeading into the 2014 midterms, the GOP has an advantage on several key issues—and the overall landscape looks very similar to the fall of 2010.

As in 2010, voters give the Republican Party a wide advantage over the Democratic Party on who can do a better job of handling the terrorist threat at home (47% say the GOP vs. 30% saying the Democratic Party) and the deficit (48% vs. 33%).

And voters’ views of which party could better handle foreign policy, immigration, and health care are also little changed from 2010. Today, neither party has a significant edge on these issues.

Republicans hold a narrow advantage when it comes to the economy, which continues to be the top issue for voters: 44% say the Republican Party can do the better job handling the economy, while 38% say the Democratic Party could do the better job.

On the handling of abortion and contraception policies, more voters say the Democratic Party is better able to handle these issues, giving them a nine point advantage over the GOP (46% vs. 37%).

GOP Loses Ground on Several Traits

Democrats Hold Edge on Honesty, Increase Advantage on Empathy Since taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms, the Republican Party has lost ground to the Democratic Party on several key traits.

In Oct. 2010, the Democrats held an 11-point lead over the GOP (47% to 36%) as the party “more concerned with needs of people like me.” Today, the Democrats lead 54% to 33%. And four years ago the parties ran about even on who “governs in a more honest and ethical way,” while today Democrats hold an eight point advantage (41% to 33%).

In Oct. 2010, the GOP was seen as the party better able to manage the federal government by an eight point margin, and today the two parties are virtually tied: 42% of voters say the Republican Party, 39% say Democratic Party.

Among negative traits and characteristics, by wide margins, the Republican Party is seen as the party “more influenced by lobbyists and special interests” (46% vs. 32%) and “more extreme in its positions” (52% vs. 36%).

And voters overwhelming see the Democratic Party as more willing to work with the other party (50% vs. 28%).

Parties’ Favorable Ratings Little Changed

Only about four-in-ten Americans (38%) say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party, while a 54% majority express an unfavorable view of the GOP. The public remains divided in views of the Democratic Party: 47% have a favorable opinion and 46% have an unfavorable view. Favorable ratings for both parties have changed very little over the past year.

Democrats Hold Edge in Favorable Views

Little Change in Views of the Parties Among Partisans Comparable percentages of Democrats (85%) and Republicans (81%) view their own party favorably, and members of both parties give very low ratings to the opposing party. More independents have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party (41%) than the Republican Party (33%).



Anti-Incumbent Sentiment Remains at Record Levels

Anti-Incumbent Sentiment at a Peak Throughout the 2014 campaign, voters have expressed high levels of anti-incumbent sentiment. Today, about two-thirds (68%) say they do not want most members of Congress reelected this year, while just 23% would like most representatives to win reelection. And roughly a third (35%) say they would not like to see their own representative reelected.

On both measures, levels of anti-incumbent sentiment match or exceed those in the last several midterms. In the 2006 and 2010 midterms, which both resulted in a shift in control of the House, about half of voters said they wanted to see most members of Congress defeated.

Little Partisan Gap in Anti-Incumbent SentimentIn recent elections, those in the “out” party have been significantly more likely to want to see representatives lose their jobs. But today, perhaps reflecting voters’ more generally negative views about Congress, Republican and Democratic voters are about equally likely to want to see representatives lose their jobs.

Seven-in-ten voters who support Republican candidates (70%) and about as many Democratic voters (65%) say they do not want most representatives to win reelection. By contrast, in 2010, about three-quarters (73%) of Republican supporters wanted to see most members of the House ousted, but only 32% of Democratic supporters said the same. And in 2006, on the eve of a Democratic victory that wrested control from the GOP, 65% of Democratic supporters — and just 32% of Republican supporters — wanted to see most representatives defeated.

A similar pattern can be found for Republican and Democratic voters’ opinions about their own representative’s reelection. In 2010, Republican voters were much more likely than Democratic voters to want to see their own representative lose reelection; and in 2006, Democratic voters were more likely to say the same. Currently, despite GOP control of the House, Republican voters are as likely as Democratic voters to say they do not want their own representative reelected (33% and 36%, respectively).

Views of Nation’s Economy

Little Change in Views of EconomyJust 21% of Americans rate the economy as excellent (2%) or good (19%), with a 45% plurality saying national economic conditions are “only fair.” One-in-three (33%) say the economy is “poor.” These ratings are little changed over the last few months.

Half Expect Same Economy in a YearDemocrats are more likely to rate economic conditions positively. Three-in-ten (30%) say the economy is excellent or good, while 69% of say it is only fair or poor. Among Republicans, just 11% rate economic conditions positively.

There is some degree of optimism about the economy in the next year: 27% expect conditions to get better, and 50% say they will stay the same, while 21% say the economy will be worse. This sentiment has remained little changed throughout the year.

About one-in-three Democrats (34%) expect the economy to improve over the course of the next year, compared with 27% of independents and 18% of Republicans. Roughly half of all partisan groups expect the economic conditions to be the same in a year. Just 13% of Democrats predict that the economy will be worse, as do 25% of Republicans and 23% of independents.

Other Issues:  Immigration, Health Care and Marijuana

Undocumented Immigrants in U.S. Who Meet Certain Requirements …When it comes to immigration policy, roughly seven-in-ten (71%) continue to support a way for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status if certain requirements are met. One-in-four (25%) say they should not be allowed to stay.

Most of those who say there should be a pathway to legal status support the ability for undocumented immigrants to apply for citizenship: 42% overall say they should be able to apply for citizenship, while 25% of the public thinks they should be able to apply for permanent residency, but not citizenship.

Overall support for a legal pathway is little changed from earlier this year. Democrats support allowing undocumented immigrants who meet requirements to stay, by a margin of 82% to 16%. Republicans also favor a pathway to legal status, but by a narrower (57% to 39%) margin, and this is down slightly from February.

Majorities of blacks (74%) and whites (67%) continue to say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally if certain requirements are met. And nearly nine-in-ten (88%) Hispanics continue to support a pathway to legal status; about half (51%) say that undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for citizenship while 32% say they should be limited to permanent residency.

Views of the Health Care Law Relatively Stable During 2014Views of the Affordable Care Act remain generally unchanged over the past year. More continue to disapprove (51%) than approve (43%) of the law.

Republicans remain more unified in their opposition to the law than Democrats are in support of it. Nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (88%) disapprove of the law and just 10% approve of it; among Democrats, 74% approve and 20% disapprove.

Liberal Democrats are especially supportive of the ACA (84% approve and 12% disapprove). Moderate and conservative Democrats approve of the law by a somewhat smaller margin (66% to 28%).

More college graduates approve of the law (51%) than those with only some college experience (43%) or no college (38%).

Slim Majority Supports Marijuana LegalizationOn the issue of marijuana policy, more continue to say marijuana use should be legal (52%) than illegal (45%), and public views about marijuana are little changed over the last year.

Support for Legalization of Marijuana by GenerationMillennial adults — who are now ages 18-33 — remain more supportive of marijuana legalization than those in older generations: 63% of Millennials say marijuana should be legal, while 35% say it should be illegal. The views of Millennials are not significantly different than earlier this year.

Baby Boomers (51% legal, 46% illegal) and those in Generation X (54% legal, 44% illegal) are about evenly divided over marijuana legalization, while the majority of those in the Silent Generation are opposed (66% illegal, 27% legal).

Democrats continue to support legalization by about two-to-one (64%-34%). But just 31% of Republicans say marijuana should be legal, down 8 points from February.