For Majority of Voters, National Issues Paramount in 2010 Vote

by Lydia Saad

Republicans especially likely to consider national issues more important in vote for Congress

PRINCETON, NJ -- By 55% to 39%, more registered voters say a candidate's stand on national issues -- rather than his or her ability to help people at the district level -- is what matters more to them in voting for Congress. The percentage naming issues as the more important factor is the highest recorded on this measure in the nearly two-decade-long Gallup trend, although similar to that seen at points in the last two midterm election years.

1992-2010 Trend: Primary Factor in Vote for Congress -- Candidate's Ability to Help People in District or Candidate's Position on National Issues

Politics Are More Local for Democrats Than for Republicans

Republicans are considerably more likely than Democrats to emphasize national issues in their assessments of candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. Whereas a solid majority of Republican registered voters, 63%, say a candidate's positions on national issues are paramount to them, Democratic voters are evenly split at 46% in their emphasis on issues vs. district performance.

Notably, the majority of political independents share Republicans' greater concern for national issues.

Primary Factor in Vote for Congress -- by Party ID: Ability to Do Things to Help People in District or Agreeing With Voter's Positions on Major National Issues

Gallup trends document an increase in the percentage citing national issues among all three party groups since 1994, but the increase has been particularly steep among Republicans and independents.

1994-2010 Trend: Prioritizing National Issues as Voting Factor, by Party ID

Additionally, even along ideological lines, the right side of the political spectrum puts more emphasis on national issues in voting for Congress than does the left. According to the May 24-25, 2010, USA Today/Gallup survey, the percentage of conservatives citing issues is 10 points higher than that of liberals, 61% vs. 51%.

Bottom Line

The maxim that "all politics is local" -- most famously advanced by the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill -- may have once been an accurate characterization of the relationship that congressional candidates had with their constituents. In that vein, as recently as 1994, significantly more registered voters said that delivering for their district was more important to the way they viewed congressional candidates than were national issue stances. However, since 1994 -- perhaps because of the nationalization of that election with the Republicans' Contract With America -- Americans' voting priorities have flipped.

In a year when voters rank the federal budget deficit as high as terrorism as a top concern, the implications are clear. Twenty years ago, candidates for Congress might have ingratiated themselves with voters by bulleting all of the federal spending projects they either had delivered to the district, or would support if elected. Today, such messages may be more likely to spark constituents' concerns about the effect the spending involved could have on the national debt.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 24-25, 2010, with a random sample of 1,049 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of 946 registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell-phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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