skip to main content

Likely Voters Demographically Typical, but Skew Conservative

Majority of likely voters are conservative and identify as or lean Republican

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's recent modeling of the vote for Congress finds 54% of likely voters identifying themselves as politically conservative, while moderates are in conspicuously short supply compared with recent midterms. Also, Republicans make up a larger share of the electorate in Gallup's initial 2010 likely voter pool -- greater than their 1994 share -- than do Democrats, and the gap is even more pronounced once the leanings of independents are taken into account.

Political Profile of Gallup Pre-Election Likely Voters, Early October 2010, and Final Midterm Pre-Election Polls, 1994-2006

Gallup's initial likely voter models for the 2010 congressional midterm elections, based on polling conducted between Sept. 23 and Oct. 3, include one projection based on a lower, more typical voter turnout scenario (assuming that approximately 40% of eligible Americans will vote) and a second based on a higher voter turnout scenario (assuming that more than 50% will vote). It is important to note that the historical comparisons of likely voters reported here are based on the 40% turnout assumption for this year -- which could still change between now and Nov. 2 -- and the final pre-election polls conducted in the four prior midterm election years.

The composition of likely voters appears to have become more politically polarized, with the proportions of conservatives and liberals expanding since 1994 at moderates' expense. However, Gallup's initial 2010 estimate of likely voters shows a particularly sharp jump in the percentage of conservatives, from 42% in 2006 to 54% today, and a decline in the percentage of moderates, from 37% to 27%.

This ideological change is accompanied by a concomitant shift toward Republicans, who have a nine-percentage-point advantage over Democrats in the likely voter pool: 39% vs. 30% at this point, one month before the elections. This exceeds the GOP's five- and six-point advantages in Gallup's final pre-election polls in 1994 and 2002, respectively, and is a reversal from 1998 and 2006, when Democrats slightly outnumbered Republicans.

Once the "leanings" of independents are taken into account, the majority of the 2010 electorate, 57%, identifies either as Republicans or as independents who lean Republican, compared with 39% identifying as or leaning Democratic. The previous high was 51% in 2002.

Demographics of Likely Voters Look Fairly Typical

Despite these differences in the political composition of likely voters in 2010 compared with previous years, these voters' demographic profile is quite similar to what Gallup found in 2006, when the Democrats recaptured majority control of Congress. As in 2006, Gallup's latest poll shows a roughly even division of men and women among likely voters, and there is a similar breakdown of voters by age and educational background for both years.

When one looks more broadly at the midterm elections since 1994, the gender balance among likely voters has consistently been close to 50-50, while the proportions in the older age categories have gradually increased along with the aging baby-boom population. Notably, young Americans appear no more likely to vote in this year's midterm elections than they have been in any year since 1994.

At the same time -- and partially offsetting the elevated proportions of conservatives and Republicans within the likely voter pool -- whites make up a smaller share of likely voters this year than they did in 2006 or any year prior. Accordingly, there is a larger percentage of nonwhites, although the percentage of blacks has held constant at 7% to 10% of the electorate.

Demographic Profile of Gallup Pre-Election Likely Voters, Early October 2010, and Final Midterm Pre-Election Polls, 1994-2006

Likely voters skew more conservative this year partly because the underlying population has become slightly more conservative. According to Gallup's Sept. 23-Oct. 3 poll, 40% of national adults are conservative, up from 37% in Gallup's final 2006 pre-election survey, and 34% in 1994. However, conservatives also appear more activated to vote this year relative to moderates and liberals, thus sharply expanding their segment of the likely voter pie.

Bottom Line

Gallup's first sketch of what the electorate may look like on Nov. 2 indicates that the enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans all year -- as well as the "thought" gap evident in a late August survey -- may well translate into highly disproportionate turnout among Republicans and conservatives on Election Day. That is a key reason Gallup's latest polling finds Republican candidates leading Democrats by 13- and 18-point margins, depending on turnout, in two estimates of the vote. Another is that political independents are aligning themselves with the Republican Party to a degree unprecedented in recent history.

In contrast to these extraordinary political patterns, the demographic composition of likely voters looks fairly normal relative to the profile of the electorate in 2006, as well as consistent with the trends seen since 1994 toward an older, more well-educated, and less substantially white, electorate.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 23-Oct. 3, 2010, with a random sample of 3,037 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 national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 2,764 registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 1,882 likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030