Fewer Swing Voters in 2010 Than in Prior Midterm Years

by Jeffrey M. Jones

One in five likely voters could change their minds

PRINCETON, NJ -- About one in five likely voters have yet to solidify their 2010 vote for Congress, including 4% who currently have no preference and 15% who express a preference but say they could change their minds between now and the elections. That is a lower proportion of swing voters than Gallup measured in the prior two midterm elections.

Committed Voters and Swing Voters in Midterm Elections, 2002, 2006, and 2010, Based on Likely Voters

Republican voters are somewhat more committed to their vote choice at this point than are Democratic voters. Among voters who say they would choose the Republican candidate for Congress in their local district if the elections were held today, 86% say they will definitely vote that way, compared with 82% of Democratic voters who are committed to their choice.

This higher level of commitment among Republican voters could be a positive sign for Republicans' chances on Election Day. In both 2002 and 2006, the party with the greater proportion of committed voters eventually won the greater percentage of the vote on Election Day.

Committed Voters and Swing Voters in Midterm Elections, by Candidate Preference, 2002, 2006, and 2010, Based on Likely Voters

Historically, swing voters have come disproportionately from the ranks of those without strong attachments to the political parties. That is the case in the 2010 data as well, with independents (32%) and moderates (29%) among the subgroups of likely voters with the highest proportions of swing voters. Young adults are also far less likely than older adults to have a firm commitment to a candidate.

Swing Voters in the 2010 Midterm Elections, by Subgroup (Party, Ideology, Age -- October 2010)

Bottom Line

Roughly one in five likely voters -- including about a third of independents -- have yet to make a firm voting choice, providing some hope for the Democratic Party in the final days of the 2010 campaign. In 2002, when more than one in three likely voters had not made a firm choice roughly two weeks before the elections, a late surge propelled the Republican Party to gains in the House even though Gallup tracking of voter preferences showed the Democrats leading for much of the fall.

Still, the lower proportion of swing voters this year, coupled with Republican leads in current 2010 voting preferences, is another good sign for the GOP's chances of a strong showing on Election Day. The potential for change among swing voters may not be all that great. Past Gallup analysis using pre- and post-election panel data found that swing voters usually follow through on their initial voting preference.

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. 14-17 and Oct. 21-24, 2010, with a random sample of 1,989 likely 2010 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 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 per 1,000 national adults, 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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