U.S. Voters Give GOP Edge vs. Dems on Handling Top Issues

U.S. Voters Give GOP Edge vs. Dems on Handling Top Issues

by Andrew Dugan

Prefer GOP on seven of 13 election issues; Democrats, on just four

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Republicans in Congress hold significant leads over the Democrats on four of the six issues that U.S. registered voters say are most important in determining how they will vote in November: the economy, the way the federal government is working, the situation with Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, and the federal budget deficit. Democrats, by contrast, top their Republican rivals on just one of the six: "equal pay for women."

2014 Midterm Issues: Importance and Party Advantage

Midterm Election

Discover how Americans rate their state in 2014, across key metrics

These results are from a Sept. 25-30 poll in which Gallup asked registered voters to rate the importance of 13 issues to their vote for Congress, and then to indicate which party would do a better job on each issue. The accompanying graph simultaneously displays the rankings of these issues on both dimensions. The higher an issue is, the greater the Republican Party's advantage. And the farther to the right an issue is, the more important it is to the electorate.

The 13 issues measured in the new poll include eight that appeared in a Gallup Poll conducted in April, before the midterm campaign season came into full bloom, plus five new ones. In total, six issues were rated above the average of 69%, in terms of the percentage of voters saying they are extremely or very important to their vote:

  1. the economy (88%)
  2. the availability of good jobs (86%)
  3. the way the federal government is working (81%)
  4. the situation with Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria (78%)
  5. equal pay for women (75%) and
  6. the federal budget deficit (73%)

On the No. 1 issue, the economy, Republicans have more than doubled their April lead over Democrats, to 11 percentage points.

Trend: Party Advantage on the Economy Ahead of Midterms

Notably, as the GOP tries to gain control of the Senate, the current GOP advantage on the economy nearly matches the 12-point advantage the party held in August 2010, shortly before the midterm elections that gave the Republicans control of the House of Representatives.

The GOP's lead on the federal budget deficit has also widened, to 20 points from 14 points in April, and is now higher than at any other time during Barack Obama's presidency.

Republicans are also in a better position than Democrats on several new items included in the poll, including the way the federal government works and the situation in Iraq and Syria. Republicans hold a solid eight-point advantage on how the federal government functions, despite gripes from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that "Republican obstruction" is the source of federal dysfunction.

Voters also prefer the GOP by a commanding 19-point margin regarding Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria. The GOP has historically held an edge over Democrats on terrorism and national security, and they continue to lead in this arena, even as the Obama administration conducts airstrikes against Islamic militant targets in Iraq and Syria.

In terms of "the availability of good jobs," the two parties are essentially tied, with a one-point Republican lead.

Voters clearly favor Democrats only on securing equal pay for women among issues of above-average importance. Democrats have an outsized 38-point advantage -- the largest lead either party holds on any issue.

On the two issues that are of average importance to voters, "foreign affairs," and "taxes," voters give Republicans the nod.

Democrats Strong on Issues Voters Think Are Less Important

For the five issues rated below average in importance, voters largely view Democrats as the better party -- perhaps scant comfort to Democrats. At the same time, these issues are more important to self-identified Democrats than to other voters, meaning they are potentially good issues to help bring Democrats to the polls.

Bottom Five Issues in Voting Importance and Party Advantage, September 2014

Democrats are the clear favorites to handle wealth and income distribution, abortion and access to contraception, and climate change; the party holds double-digit advantages on these issues. But only one of the three has more than half of voters assessing it as extremely or very important, and all three rank well below the top issues.

Bottom Line

Republicans lead Democrats on a number of issues of high importance to the electorate, including the economy, the situation in Iraq and Syria, and the federal budget deficit. Democrats are not without electoral strengths -- equal pay for women is an issue that voters judge as important, and that a wide swath think Democrats are most adept to handle. But as the two parties enter the final campaign stretch, the electoral environment increasingly appears to favor the GOP.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 25-30, 2014, with a random sample of 1,095 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of voters, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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 survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

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

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