An enthusiastic Republican base and persistent concerns about the state of the economy place the GOP in a strong position with about a week to go in the race for control of the US House of Representatives, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.
The new survey out Wednesday shows that Democratic enthusiasm about voting is significantly lower than it was in 2018, when the Democratic Party took control of the House. Republican voters in the new poll express greater engagement with this year’s midterm election than Democrats across multiple questions gauging likelihood of vote.
Overall, 27% of registered voters say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting this year, down from 37% just ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, and the decline in enthusiasm comes almost entirely among Democrats. Four years ago, 44% of Democratic registered voters said they were extremely enthusiastic about voting; now, just 24% say the same. Among Republicans, the number has dipped only narrowly, from 43% to 38%.
Although overall enthusiasm about voting now is lower than in October 2010, the Republican enthusiasm advantage now is similar to the partisan gap found in CNN polling then, ahead of a very strong GOP midterm performance. Back then, as now, Republican voters were 14 points more likely to say they were extremely enthusiastic about voting in the midterm (31% of Republican voters were extremely enthusiastic vs. 17% of Democratic voters).
In the new poll, Republicans top Democrats on a generic ballot question asking voters which party’s candidate they would support in their own House district by 51% to 47% among likely voters, narrowly outside the poll’s margin of sampling error. Among registered voters, the race is about even, with 47% behind the Republicans and 46% the Democrats. Closely divided generic ballot numbers have often translated into Republican gains in the House.
Republican standing in the battle for the House this year is bolstered by broad concerns about the state of the nation’s economy. The economy and inflation are far and away the top issue for likely voters in this final stretch, with about half of all likely voters (51%) saying those will be the key issue determining their vote for Congress this year. Abortion, the second-ranking issue, lands as the top concern for 15% of likely voters. Other issues tested were chosen by fewer than 10% of likely voters each, including voting rights and election integrity (9%), gun policy (7%), immigration (6%), climate change (4%) and crime (3%).
Republican and independent likely voters are broadly focused on the economy, with 71% of Republicans and 53% of independents calling it the top issue in their vote. Democratic likely voters are more split, with the economy and abortion the top issue for near-equal shares – 29% say abortion, 27% the economy and inflation.
Those likely voters who say the economy is their top concern break heavily in favor of Republicans in their House districts, 71% to 26%. By an even wider margin, they say they trust the GOP more specifically to handle the economy and inflation (71% Republicans vs. 18% Democrats).
The poll finds a widespread and expanded perception that the economy is already in a recession, with a broad majority also saying things in the country are not going well generally.
Overall, 75% of Americans say that the economy is in a recession, up from 64% who felt that way this summer. Majorities across party lines see the economy as already in recession, including 91% of Republicans, 74% of independents and 61% of Democrats. A majority overall (55%) say they are dissatisfied with their own personal financial situation, up from 47% who felt that way this spring. Most Republicans (57%) and independents (62%) express dissatisfaction with their finances, while Democrats are more likely to be satisfied (55% satisfied, 45% dissatisfied).
Nearly three-quarters of Americans (74%, including 72% of likely voters) say things in the country are going badly today. That’s a slight improvement from this summer, when 79% of all adults rated things poorly, but is similar to how Americans felt about the state of the country just ahead of the 2010 midterms (75% said things were going badly) and significantly worse than just before Election Day 2018 (44% said things were going badly in early November). The last time a majority of Americans said things in the US were going well was January 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid this growing economic malaise and stagnant negativity about the nation, President Joe Biden’s approval rating has also dipped in the new poll. Overall, 41% of adults say they approve of the president’s performance, down from 44% in the most recent CNN polling though still ahead of its low point this summer. Among likely voters, Biden’s rating stands at 42%, about on par with Donald Trump among likely voters in 2018 (41% approved) and Barack Obama in 2010 (43% approved).
The new CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS October 26 through 31 among a random national sample of 1,508 adults using sample drawn from a probability-based panel, including 1,290 registered voters and 992 likely voters. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points; it is 3.4 points among registered voters and 3.8 among likely voters. Likely voters were identified through a series of questions about their intention to, interest in and past history of voting.
Confidence and concessions
Half of Americans have confidence that the results of US elections reflect the will of the people, with Republicans less confident than Democrats in the fairness of the process and more likely to reject the idea that losing candidates have a responsibility to concede.
Fifty percent of adults say they’re at least somewhat confident that elections in America today reflect the will of the people, with the rest expressing little or no confidence. That represents a modest improvement from CNN’s polling this summer, when just 42% described themselves as confident. The shift is due largely to a modest rebound in trust among independents (49% say they’re at least somewhat confident in elections, up from 38%) and Republicans (41%, up from 29%). Trust remains highest among Democrats – 61% express at least some confidence, similar to the 57% who said the same this summer.
Still, increased GOP confidence in the election system doesn’t translate into an increased willingness to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election: 66% of Republicans say they don’t believe Biden legitimately won the election, unchanged from July.
The vast majority of Americans, 82%, say that losing candidates in their state have an obligation to accept the results and concede, but 17% say that losing candidates don’t face such an obligation. A quarter of Republicans say losing candidates don’t have an obligation to concede, compared with 7% of Democrats. Within the GOP, that view is concentrated among election deniers: 33% of Republicans who deny that Biden won the presidency fairly don’t think losing candidates should be obliged to acknowledge their loss, a view shared by only 8% of Republicans who accept the results of the 2020 election.
Republicans are also less likely than Democrats to say that challenges by their own party’s losing candidates would be detrimental to public trust in the nation’s election system. A 71% majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say that a losing candidate from their party who challenged the results would be doing more to decrease confidence in American elections than to increase it. A smaller 54% majority of Republicans and Republican-leaners say that a losing GOP candidate would decrease confidence in elections by challenging the results.
On both the Republican and Democratic sides, partisans are more likely than independents who lean toward their party to say that their candidate would be increasing confidence in elections by challenging results, and those without college degrees are also more likely than those with degrees to see such a move as confidence-inducing. On the GOP side, self-described conservatives are more likely than self-described moderates to say that challenging election results inspires confidence in the system; there’s not much of a similar ideological gap on the Democratic side.