Iraq War Positioned as Potent Election Issue

by Lydia Saad

Democrats especially likely to name it as top factor in their vote

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Voters' focus on issues this midterm election season is divided across a variety of policy matters facing the country. Among these, Iraq figures as a uniquely potent force to influence what happens on Election Day. Not only is it the top-rated issue, but Democrats and Republicans alike appear motivated to support candidates agreeing with their positions. Terrorism is a highly influential issue for Republicans, but much less so for Democrats.

The latest USA Today/Gallup poll asked respondents to name which of six issues -- Iraq, economic conditions, terrorism, illegal immigration, healthcare, and education -- is most important to them when thinking about their vote for Congress this year. The issues were chosen according to Gallup's monthly measurement of the top issues Americans want Congress to address, an unaided question in which respondents must supply their own top-of-mind responses.

When given the six top answers to choose from, about one in four voters (26%) in the Sep. 15-17 survey names the situation in Iraq as the most important issue they will consider when voting for Congress this year. Economic conditions and terrorism are closely tied for second at 18% and 17%, respectively, while illegal immigration, healthcare, and education trail slightly behind.

The overall rank order of issues masks substantial differences in policy concerns between Republicans and Democrats. The greatest difference in the expressed importance of issues is on terrorism. This ranks as the number one election issue for Republicans, mentioned by 29%, but ties for last among Democrats with 7%.

Of secondary importance to Republicans are illegal immigration and Iraq, while far fewer cite healthcare and education as key in influencing their vote. By contrast, Iraq is the top election issue named by Democrats, followed by economic conditions and healthcare. Terrorism and illegal immigration are relatively minor election concerns for Democrats.

Close Face-off Over Which Party Better Handles Issues

As a follow-up to the issue importance question, the poll asked registered voters which party would better handle the issue they just said was most important. The Democrats have a slight edge over the Republicans, 46% to 36%.

This 10-point difference is a greater advantage for the Democrats in perceived competency than what they enjoyed shortly before the midterm elections four years ago when the parties were about tied on this measure. However, the Democrats' advantage collapses to two points among the subset of voters in the current survey whom Gallup considers most likely to vote. Based on likely voters, today's attitudes are very similar to October 2002.

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Naturally, partisan responses to this question closely reflect the differences in Republicans' and Democrats' views about which issues are most important to their vote. As Democrats overwhelmingly choose Iraq as well as the economy, healthcare, and education as being most important, those choosing these issues overwhelmingly say the Democrats in Congress are better able to handle the issues. For instance, among those choosing Iraq, 60% say the Democrats in Congress would do the better job.

As a result of this partisanship, there is a clear choice on most issues as to which party is superior. Republicans are widely preferred on terrorism, while Democrats are widely preferred on Iraq, the economy, healthcare, and education. Only on immigration does less than a majority choose one party. Republicans lead the Democrats on this measure by 49% to 18%, but a third of all voters say neither party does the better job.

Democrats Motivated to Vote for Iraq War Opponents

Separately, Gallup asked voters how a candidate's position on the Iraq war will affect their vote for Congress. Registered voters are closely divided between those saying they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Bush on Iraq (34%) and those saying they will vote for a candidate who opposes Bush on Iraq (37%). About one in three (29%) indicates that a candidate's position on Iraq would not make much difference to their vote.

Republicans and Democrats show similar levels of intensity on this measure, only in opposing directions. Seventy-one percent of Republicans say they are more likely to support a candidate who supports Bush's Iraq policy, while 64% of Democrats say they are more likely to support a candidate who opposes Bush's Iraq policy. Thus, the Iraq war is a strong motivating election issue for both parties.

Bush's terrorism policies appear to generate much less backlash for him, particularly among Democrats. Overall, registered voters say they are more willing to vote for a candidate who supports Bush on terrorism than one who opposes him, by a 19-point margin, 43% vs. 24%. Another 34% say that issue wouldn't matter to their vote.

The vast majority of Republicans, 78%, say they are more likely to support a candidate who supports Bush on terrorism, but only 42% of Democrats take the opposing position. Thus, while terrorism is a strong motivating issue for Republicans, it is not for Democrats.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,003 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sep. 15-17, 2006. For results based on the sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. For results based on the sample of 888 registered voters, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Likely voter results are based on the subsample of 595 survey respondents deemed most likely to vote in the November 2006 mid-term election, according to a series of questions measuring current voting intentions and past voting behavior. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. Based on past voting history in United States midterm elections, turnout is assumed to be 40%.

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.

7. Which ONE of the following issues is MOST important to you when you think about your vote for Congress this year -- [ROTATED: economic conditions, health care, the situation in Iraq, illegal immigration, terrorism (or) education]?

2006 Sep 15-17

Likely voters

Registered voters

National adults

%

%

%

The situation in Iraq

27

26

27

Terrorism

19

17

16

Economic conditions

18

18

18

Illegal immigration

14

13

13

Healthcare

10

11

11

Education

7

9

9

Other (vol.)

3

2

2

None (vol.)

1

1

1

No opinion

2

2

2

(vol.) = Volunteered response

8. Do you think the Republicans in Congress or the Democrats in Congress would do a better job of dealing with this issue?

Republicans

Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No opinion

Likely Voters

%

%

%

%

2006 Sep 15-17 ^

42

44

8

6

2002 Oct 3-6

41

42

10

7

Registered Voters

2006 Sep 15-17 †

36

46

9

9

2002 Oct 3-6

39

41

11

9

National Adults

2006 Sep 15-17 ‡

35

44

9

12

2002 Oct 3-6

37

40

11

12

(vol.) = Volunteered response

^ BASED ON 577 LIKELY VOTERS WHO IDENTIFIED AN ISSUE AS MOST IMPORTANT TO THEIR VOTE IN THE ELECTIONS THIS NOVEMBER (±5 PCT. PTS.)

† BASED ON 858 REGISTERED VOTERS WHO IDENTIFIED AN ISSUE AS MOST IMPORTANT TO THEIR VOTE IN THE ELECTIONS THIS NOVEMBER (±4 PCT. PTS.)

‡ BASED ON 972 NATIONAL ADULTS WHO IDENTIFIED AN ISSUE AS MOST IMPORTANT TO THEIR VOTE IN THE ELECTIONS THIS NOVEMBER (±4 PCT. PTS.)

Q.9-10 ROTATED

9. Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who supports President Bush on the war in Iraq, more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes President Bush on the war in Iraq, or would that not make much difference to your vote?

Supports Bush on Iraq

Opposes Bush on Iraq

Not much difference

No opinion

Likely Voters

%

%

%

%

2006 Sep 15-17

39

40

20

2

Registered Voters

2006 Sep 15-17

34

37

27

2

2006 Aug 18-20

26

35

37

2

National Adults

2006 Sep 15-17

33

36

29

2

2006 Aug 18-20

25

35

38

1

10. Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who supports President Bush on terrorism, more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes President Bush on terrorism, or would that not make much difference to your vote?

Supports Bush on terrorism

Opposes Bush on terrorism

Not much difference

No opinion

Likely Voters

%

%

%

%

2006 Sep 15-17

45

28

26

1

Registered Voters

2006 Sep 15-17

43

24

31

3

National Adults

2006 Sep 15-17

42

23

32

2

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