Democratic Congressional Lead Among Registered Voters Largest Since '82 Midterm

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Lead by 55% to 39% on generic ballot

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds the Democratic Party leading the Republican Party 55% to 39% among registered voters in the generic congressional ballot. Gallup asks this question to get a sense of how people will vote in this year's elections for the U.S. House of Representatives.

This is the largest lead Democrats have held over Republicans in the 2006 campaign thus far, and the largest lead Democrats have enjoyed among registered voters in a midterm election since 1982. In the 1992 presidential campaign, Democrats led Republicans by 20 percentage points following the Democratic national convention that year. Once likely voter turnout models are applied -- something usually done later in the campaign -- the Democrats' advantage on the generic ballot is reduced given higher turnout rates among Republicans than Democrats. Still, a lead of this size would suggest a solid Democratic advantage among likely voters and the likelihood of Democratic seat gains.

The Democrats' current lead of 16 percentage points in the March 10-12 poll is slightly higher than a 14-point lead (53% to 39%) in the Feb. 28-March 1 poll and a 12-point lead last August. In several polls between October and early February, the Democratic lead among registered voters was in single digits, which would suggest a fairly competitive election if likely voter models were applied.

Democrats almost always lead among registered voters whenever the generic ballot is asked, due to historical advantages in Democratic Party identification among the general public. This has been the case even since Republicans took majority control of the House of Representatives following the 1994 elections. In recent midterm elections, Democrats have held much smaller registered voter leads on the generic ballot, and Republicans have won the greater share of the congressional vote since then.

For example, in 1994 and 2002 -- two of the strongest Republican years -- Democrats did not have a double-digit lead among registered voters at any point during the campaign. In 1998, Democrats managed a 13-point lead among registered voters in September, which was basically cut in half by Election Day, and cut in half again once voter turnout was taken into account by applying the likely voter model. Republicans won a narrow majority of the two-party congressional vote that year, but Democrats gained a net of five seats in the House.

Prior to 1994, when Democrats held majority status in the House, Democrats typically held double-digit leads among registered voters (and often among likely voters) in the final pre-election polls, and subsequently won majorities of the congressional vote.

Democrats have not held a lead as big as their current one since the final pre-election poll in 1982, when they led by 18 points among registered voters (and by 10 points among likely voters). In that year, Democrats won 269 seats in the U.S. House, a gain of 26 seats from before the election. It is unclear what type of seat gains Democrats could expect this year -- assuming current conditions hold -- given recent concerted efforts by state legislatures to protect incumbents when re-drawing congressional districts every 10 years.

Past Democratic Leads on Gallup Generic Ballot
Versus Final Voting Outcome

Midterm election years

Election year

Largest Dem. lead among Reg. voters, during election year

Dem. lead among reg. voters, final pre-election poll

Dem. lead/deficit among likely voters, final pre-election poll

Dem. lead/deficit in final two-party vote for U.S. House

2002

+9 (Oct)

+5

-6

-5

1998

+13 (Sept)

+7

--

-1

1994

+6 (Jun)

--

-7

-7

1990

+10 (Oct)

+10

+6

+8

1986

+13 (Jul)

+12

NA

+10

1982

+20 (Feb, Apr)

+18

+10

+12

1978

+29 (Feb)

+11

+10

+9

1974

+32 (Jul)

+26

+19

+17

1970

+14 (Jan, Oct)

+10

+6

+8

1966

+18 (Jul)

+9

+4

+3

1962

+24 (May)

+16

+16

+5

1958

+23 (Sept)

+11

+16

+13

1954

+15 (Jul)

NA

+4

+6

1950

+22 (Oct)

+2

+2

--

This chart shows that in the majority of cases the Democrats' largest leads on the generic ballot were measured before the fall, with the final pre-election poll lead considerably smaller in some cases. This is a reminder that much can change over the course of an election year, and that the current poll, while very positive for Democrats, can only measure voting intentions as of today.

Democrats Have Advantage on Issues

In addition to measuring Americans' congressional voting intentions, the poll also asked the public whether the Democrats or Republicans in Congress would better handle each of three issues -- the economy, the situation in Iraq, and terrorism.

Do you think the Republicans in Congress or the Democrats in Congress would do a better job of dealing with each of the following issues and problems? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2006 Mar 10-12


Republicans


Democrats


Advantage

%

%

Terrorism

45

41

R +4

The situation in Iraq

40

48

D +8

The economy

38

53

D +15

The Republicans (45%) barely edge out the Democrats (41%) on terrorism, traditionally the Republicans' (and George W. Bush's) strongest issue. In October, the Republican advantage on terrorism was 11 points, 49% to 38%. In 2003, the Republican advantage averaged 27 points, 55% to 28%.

While there have been signs of a strengthening economy, most Americans do not perceive the economy to be in great shape. That might explain why Americans view the Democrats in Congress as better able to deal with the economy than Republicans, by a wide 53% to 38% margin. Democrats led by a similar 50% to 38% margin in October, when the economic outlook was perhaps less positive.

Democrats also have a lead on perceptions of which party would better handle the situation in Iraq, 48% to 40%. During the early stages of the war, a July 2003 poll found Republicans with a 51% to 36% advantage on the issue. Last October, Democrats had a 46% to 40% edge.

Iraq is certainly poised to be an important campaign issue this year. The poll confirms this, as 61% of registered voters say it will be very important to their vote, including 18% who say it will be the most important issue to their vote.

The issue of Iraq could explain the current wide Democratic lead on the generic ballot. Among registered voters who say Iraq is very important or the most important issue to their vote, 60% say they would vote for the Democratic House candidate and 33% choose the Republican candidate. Among those who say the issue is only moderately important or not important to their vote, the parties are basically even, with 48% currently supporting Republican candidates and 46% backing Democratic candidates.

This pattern is not merely a function of Democrats saying the issue is important and Republicans disagreeing. While Democratic registered voters (68%) are more likely than Republican registered voters (52%) to say the issue is the most important or a very important issue to their vote, a majority of both groups consider it important.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 10-12, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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 results based on the sample of 908 registered voters, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

2. If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party's candidate would you vote for in your Congressional district -- [ROTATED: the Democratic Party's candidate or the Republican Party's candidate]?

2A. As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATE: the Democratic Party's candidate or the Republican Party's candidate]?


Democratic
candidate

Republican
candidate

Undecided/
other

Registered Voters

%

%

%

2006 Mar 10-12

55

39

7

2006 Feb 28-Mar 1

53

39

7

2006 Feb 9-12

50

43

8

2006 Jan 6-8

49

43

8

2005 Oct 21-23

50

43

7

2005 Aug 28-30

53

41

6

National Adults

2006 Mar 10-12

54

38

8

2006 Feb 28-Mar 1

52

39

10

2006 Feb 9-12

49

42

9

2006 Jan 6-8

49

42

9

2005 Oct 21-23

50

42

8

2005 Aug 28-30

52

41

7

4. Do you think the Republicans in Congress or the Democrats in Congress would do a better job of dealing with each of the following issues and problems? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. The economy


Republicans


Democrats

NO
DIFFERENCE
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Mar 10-12

38

53

4

5

2005 Oct 21-23

38

50

9

3

2003 Jul 18-20

36

53

7

4

2003 Jan 3-5

43

42

10

5

2002 Jul 26-28

37

42

13

8

2002 Jun 28-30

44

40

10

6

2002 May 28-29 ^

43

34

13

10

^ Asked of a half sample

B. Terrorism


Republicans


Democrats

NO
DIFFERENCE
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Mar 10-12

45

41

7

7

2005 Oct 21-23

49

38

9

4

2003 Jul 18-20

55

29

10

6

2003 Jan 3-5 ^

55

27

13

5

2002 Oct 21-22

52

23

14

11

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

56

27

10

7

2002 Jun 28-30

57

22

13

8

2002 May 28-29 ^

51

19

19

11

^ Asked of a half sample

C. The situation in Iraq


Republicans


Democrats

NO
DIFFERENCE
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Mar 10-12

40

48

6

6

2005 Oct 21-23

40

46

10

4

2003 Jul 18-20

51

36

7

6

2003 Jan 3-5 ^

53

29

12

6

^ Asked of a half sample

5a. How important will the issue of Iraq be to your vote for Congress this year -- will it be -- the most important issue, very important, but not the most important issue, moderately important, or not that important?

Most important issue


Very important

Moderately important


Not that important


No
opinion

Registered Voters

2006 Mar 10-12

18%

43

28

10

1

National Adults

2006 Mar 10-12

18%

42

28

11

1

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/21928/Democratic-Congressional-Lead-Among-Registered-Voters-Largest-Since-82-Midterm.aspx
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