Economy Top Issue for Voters; Size of Gov't May Be More Pivotal

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Those concerned about size of government overwhelmingly say they are voting Republican

PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. registered voters choose economic conditions by nearly a 2-to-1 margin over any of four other key election issues as the most important to their vote for Congress this year. Substantial proportions of voters, however, also place importance on healthcare and the size and power of the federal government.

Which One of the Following Issues Is Most Important to You When You Think About Your Vote for Congress This Year? Among Registered Voters, October 2010

Together, the top three issues account for more than 80% of the total, suggesting the 2010 elections are being contested on a fairly narrow issue space. This is a departure from the past two midterm elections, when there was no dominant issue, and voters' choice for the most important one spanned a greater number of issues.

Specifically, in 2006, the Iraq war was the top issue, chosen by 26% of registered voters, but between 9% and 18% of voters regarded each of the five other issues tested in that poll as the top issue. In the 2002 midterms, economic conditions was the top issue, at 27%, but 9% to 16% of voters chose each of the other five issues (healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, the situation in Iraq, terrorism, and education) included in that poll.

This year, the economy is the top issue among all party groups, although the gap between the economy and the second issue is much greater among Democrats and independents than among Republicans. The size and power of the federal government is the second-ranked issue among Republicans and independents, but is chosen by a small proportion of Democrats.

Most Important Issue to Vote for Congress, Among Registered Voters, October 2010

Compared with prior midterm election years, Republicans are now much more likely to name healthcare as the most important issue to their vote. The 20% of Republican registered voters who say healthcare is most important this year compares with 7% who did so in 2002, and 8% in 2006. In fact, in both of those years, healthcare was last or tied for last among Republicans. The change obviously reflects Republicans' opposition to the healthcare overhaul that Congress passed this year.

Healthcare usually ranks as a higher priority among Democrats, though they are also significantly more likely to mention it this year than in 2002 (9%) and 2006 (14%).

How Issue Importance Relates to Voting Outcomes

One way to gauge the potential impact of each issue on the 2010 election outcome is to see how voters' candidate choices compare, based on which issue they choose as most important to their vote.

Because many more Democrats than Republicans choose the economy as the most important issue to their vote, it follows that those ranking the economy as the top issue are more likely to say they are voting Democratic than Republican for Congress this year. Those naming healthcare as most influential to their vote are also largely voting Democratic, though the margin in favor of the Democratic candidate among this group is much smaller than Gallup found in 2006, and about the same as in 2002.

Notably, voters who choose the size and power of the federal government as most important overwhelmingly say they are voting Republican. Though these voters constitute only the third-largest group overall, the Republican advantage on this issue is large enough to offset the Democratic advantages among those rating the economy and healthcare as their top issue.

Congressional Vote Choice Based on Most Important Issue to Vote, Among Registered Voters, October 2010

Bottom Line

Voters' overwhelming choice of economic conditions as the most important issue to their vote for Congress this year is consistent with Gallup's polling throughout the year showing that the economy and unemployment rank as the top issues when Americans are asked to name the most important problem facing the country.

While the economy is the dominant issue, it may not be quite as pivotal in determining the election outcome. Republicans have led or tied Democrats in 2010 voting preferences among registered voters for most of this year, even though voters ranking the economy as the top issue are more likely to say they will vote Democratic rather than Republican. Republicans' strength could be built upon voters who say the size and power of the federal government is the top issue, a group that is voting overwhelmingly Republican this year. That group is composed mostly of Republicans but also includes a substantial proportion of independents.

Explore more Gallup data relating to the upcoming congressional midterm elections, including Gallup's complete generic ballot trend since 1950, in our Election 2010 Key Indicators interactive.

Learn more about Gallup's likely voter models for the 2010 midterm congressional elections.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 21-24, 2010, with a random sample of 1,364 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of registered 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 150 cell-phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents per 1,000 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 http://www.gallup.com/.

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