Democrats Gain Upper Hand in Gallup Test Election for Congress

by Lydia Saad

First time GOP has lagged since Sept. 11

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup measure of party strength in the upcoming congressional elections puts Democrats ahead of Republicans for the first time since Sept. 11. By a 50% to 43% margin, more registered voters now say they will vote for the Democratic candidate in their district rather than the Republican candidate. Just two weeks ago, the parties were tied at 46% on this important measure.

The current results, based on a survey conducted April 5-7, are striking because they differ so strongly from the pattern of Republican strength over the past five months. Republicans' chances of keeping a majority of seats in Congress seemed to be boosted by Bush's soaring popularity following Sept. 11, with the Republicans consistently tying or leading the Democrats in the race for Congress in the initial post-attack period. By contrast, prior to the attack, Democrats enjoyed the edge in voter support.

Party Preference in Respondents' Vote for Congress
If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party's candidate would you vote for in your congressional district?
(Among Registered Voters)

Bush's Coattails Losing Their Grip?

One conclusion to be drawn from the current stumble in Republicans' support is that Bush's popularity may not guarantee the party a victory in November. At the very least, it suggests that the race for control of Congress could be highly competitive. George W. Bush's approval rating is now 76% -- down only slightly from the 79% recorded in March -- and still stands among the highest presidential approval scores of modern time. Nevertheless, Republicans have now fallen seven points behind in this test election, and are in a weaker position today than they were last June when Bush's approval score was only 55%.

Comparing Bush Approval With Republicans' Mid-Term Election Strength


Bush Job Approval

(Among National Adults)

Republican Advantage in Vote for Congress
(Among Registered Voters)

%

%

2002 Apr 5-7

76

-7

2002 Mar 22-24

79

0

2002 Feb 8-10

82

+4

2002 Jan 25-27

84

+2

2002 Jan 11-14

83

+3

2001 Dec 14-16

86

+5

2001 Nov 2-4

87

0

2001 Jun 8-10

55

-4

Two Important Caveats About the New Data

Before drawing too many conclusions about the significance of this shift, it should be noted that Gallup trends from past mid-term elections show these numbers can change considerably during the year prior to Election Day -- sometimes with the lead shifting back and forth between the two parties. In 1994, for example, the Democrats led Republicans by nine points in March, trailed them by one point in July, then regained the lead in August, in an election that ultimately saw large Republican gains.

Also, given the advantage typically seen for Republican candidates in low turnout mid-term elections, Republicans can conceivably win a majority of seats in Congress -- even when pre-election polls based on all registered voters show them trailing Democrats by as much as 10 points. As the November election draws closer, Gallup will focus on a "likely voter" subgroup of registered voters to try to more closely approximate what will happen on Election Day.

A Different Indicator of Party Strength

A different pre-post Sept. 11 snapshot of party strength finds that the Republicans' image has improved to a greater extent than the Democrats' image during this pivotal period. The question simply asks respondents whether they approve or disapprove of the way members of each party are handling their jobs in Congress. An August 2001 survey found the Democrats with a slight advantage: 52% approved of the way the Democrats in Congress were handling their job compared to 49% who approved of the Republicans. Approval of both parties is higher today, but the Republicans have gained 10 points since August 2001, compared to only a five-point gain for the Democrats.

Job Approval for Parties in Congress

Election Issues

Rather than the public's approval of President Bush, what may decide the outcome of this year's mid-term congressional election is how voters evaluate the two parties on issues that matter to them. Indeed, 50% of Americans say a candidate's support or opposition for Bush will have no effect on their vote for Congress (36% say they will be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Bush, and 12% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes Bush.)

The recent poll finds a clear divide in the images of the two major parties, with Republicans dominating on foreign policy-related issues and the Democrats dominating on several domestic issues.

Specifically, Republicans are chosen over the Democrats by a 33-point margin (54% vs. 21%) as the party Americans believe is better able to protect the country from future acts of terrorism. Republicans enjoy a 23-point advantage for their perceived ability to respond to "foreign policy challenges in the Middle East."

Democrats are chosen by a 23-point margin for "improving the health care system" and 16-point margins each for "ensuring the long-term strength of the Social Security system" and "setting a tax policy that is fair to all Americans."

The two parties are more evenly matched on the four other items tested (preventing corruption, managing the federal government, getting the country out of the recession, and representing your values.) The parity on these issues -- with neither party leading the other by more than six points -- suggests for now that these will not be deciding issues in November.

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?



Republicans



Democrats


Republican Advantage

%

%

%

Protecting the country from future acts of terrorism

54

21

+33

Responding to foreign policy challenges in the Middle East

53

30

+23

Preventing corruption

39

33

+6

Managing the federal government

43

38

+5

Getting the country out of the recession

43

42

+1

Representing your values

41

47

-6

Setting a tax policy that is fair to all Americans

35

51

-16

Ensuring the long-term strength of the Social Security system

34

50

-16

Improving the health care system

31

54

-23

+

Republican Advantage indicates Republican lead

-

Republican Advantage indicates Democratic lead

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,009 adults, 18 years and older, conducted April 5-7, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent 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.

If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party's candidate would you vote for in your Congressional district -- [ROTATE: 1) The Democratic Party's candidate or 2) The Republican Party's candidate]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATE: 1) The Democratic Party's candidate or 2) The Republican Party's candidate]?

Democratic
candidate

Republican
candidate

Undecided/
other

%

%

%

National Adults (NA)

(NA) 2002 Apr 5-7

50

40

10

(NA) 2002 Mar 22-24

45

43

12

(NA) 2002 Feb 8-10

42

44

14

(NA) 2002 Jan 25-27

45

44

11

(NA) 2002 Jan 11-14

44

44

12

(NA) 2001 Dec 14-16

44

46

10

(NA) 2001 Nov 2-4

43

44

13

(NA) 2001 Jun 8-10

50

43

7

Registered Voters (RV)

(RV) 2002 Apr 5-7

50

43

7

(RV) 2002 Mar 22-24

46

46

8

(RV) 2002 Feb 8-10

43

47

10

(RV) 2002 Jan 25-27

44

46

10

(RV) 2002 Jan 11-14

43

46

11

(RV) 2001 Dec 14-16

43

48

9

(RV) 2001 Nov 2-4

45

45

10

(RV) 2001 Jun 8-10

49

45

6

Q.1/Q.1A SELECTED GENERIC BALLOT TREND

Democratic
candidate

Republican
candidate

Undecided/
other

%

%

%

1998 Mid-Term Election

(RV) 1998 Oct 29-Nov 1

50

41

9

(RV) 1998 Oct 23-25

47

44

9

(RV) 1998 Oct 9-12

46

45

9

(RV) 1998 Sep 23-24

50

41

9

(RV) 1998 Sep 14-15

47

43

10

(RV) 1998 Sep 11-12

52

39

9

(RV) 1998 Aug 21-23

47

43

10

(RV) 1998 Jul 7-8

46

42

12

(RV) 1998 May 8-10

48

43

9

(RV) 1998 Apr 17-19

46

45

9

(RV) 1998 Jan 16-18

51

40

9

(RV) 1997 Nov 6-9

49

42

9

(RV) 1997 Oct 27-29

46

46

8

(RV) 1997 Aug 22-25

51

41

8

(RV) 1997 Jul 25-27

48

43

9

1994 Mid-Term Election

(NA) 1994 Nov 2-6

47

44

9

(NA) 1994 Oct 22-25

49

45

6

(NA) 1994 Oct 18-19

46

47

7

(NA) 1994 Oct 7-9

46

47

7

(NA) 1994 Sep 23-25

45

47

8

(NA) 1994 Sep 6-7

46

48

6

(NA) 1994 Aug 15-16

44

46

10

(NA) 1994 Aug 8-9

47

43

10

(NA) 1994 Jul 15-17

45

46

9

(NA) 1994 Jun 11-12

50

42

7

(NA) 1994 Mar 25-27

50

41

9

(NA) 1994 Feb 26-28

46

47

7

(NA) 1993 Dec 17-19

47

46

7

(NA) 1993 Nov 2-4

49

44

7

Do you approve or disapprove of the way [ROTATED] are handling their job?

A. The Republicans in Congress

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2002 Apr 5-7

59

30

11

2001 Aug 3-5

49

40

11

2001 Jun 8-10

49

43

8

2000 Aug 18-19

45

44

11

2000 Jul 25-26

46

39

15

2000 Apr 28-30

42

46

12

1999 Nov 4-7

38

53

9

1999 Oct 8-10

37

55

8

1999 Aug 16-18

36

53

11

1999 Jun 25-27

40

53

7

B. The Democrats in Congress

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2002 Apr 5-7

57

32

11

2001 Aug 3-5

52

38

10

2001 Jun 8-10

54

37

9

2000 Aug 18-19

56

34

10

2000 Jul 25-26

51

36

13

2000 Apr 28-30

46

42

12

1999 Nov 4-7

49

42

9

1999 Oct 8-10

48

44

8

1999 Aug 16-18

48

41

11

1999 Jun 25-27

46

46

8

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. Representing your values


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

41%

47%

8%

4%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

B. Managing the federal government


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

43%

38%

12%

7%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

C. Setting a tax policy that is fair to all Americans


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

35%

51%

9%

5%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

D. Getting the country out of the recession


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

43%

42%

9%

6%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

E. Preventing corruption


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

39%

33%

20%

8%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

F. Protecting the country from future acts of terrorism


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

54%

21%

17%

8%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

G. Improving the health care system


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

31%

54%

8%

7%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

H. Ensuring the long-term strength of the Social Security system


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

34%

50%

9%

7%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

I. Responding to foreign policy challenges in the Middle East


Republicans


Democrats

No difference (vol.)

No
opinion

2002 Apr 5-7

53%

30%

10%

7%

(vol.) - Volunteered response

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