National Issues May Play Bigger-Than-Usual Role in Congressional Elections

by Lydia Saad

Situation in Iraq, terrorism and economy emerge as key factors

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- For the first time in the last five congressional elections, national issues will be at least as important as parochial issues as the factor Americans believe will influence their vote for Congress. The answer to the obvious follow-up question -- "Which national issues will be paramount?" -- could help determine whether Republicans or Democrats win control of the House or Senate, or both, this coming Tuesday. Recent Gallup polling suggests that the effort to fight terrorism and the possibility of war with Iraq are uppermost in voters' minds, with the economy close behind.

Republicans have a strong advantage over Democrats in Americans' perceptions as the party better able to handle the situation with Iraq. While this may be aiding Republican candidates, it is clearly not enough to give the GOP a secure lead in the race for control of Congress, as Gallup's latest poll measuring Americans' vote choice for Congress shows the Republicans trailing the Democrats by 3 points.

Details

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Oct. 21-22, asked respondents to identify which of four factors will be most important to their vote for Congress this year. The four were 1) national issues, 2) local or state issues, 3) the candidate's character and experience, and 4) the candidate's political party. Roughly equal thirds of registered voters opted for factors 1, 2 and 3, with only 6% choosing political party.

Thinking ahead to your vote in the elections for Congress this November, what will make the biggest difference in how you vote for Congress in your district -- national issues, local or state issues, the candidate's character and experience, or the candidate's political party?
Registered voters – Oct. 21-22, 2002

This finding is much different from those of other recent elections, when local/state issues were the clear priority for voters, and national issues generally ranked third behind candidate experience and character.

 

National
Issues

Local/State
Issues

Character/
Experience

%

%

%

2002 Oct. 21-22

30

29

31

2000 Oct. 4-8

21

42

21

1998 Oct. 14-18

23

36

28

1996 Oct. 14-20

19

45

26

1994 Oct. 20-24

22

38

30



The explanations for the relatively high influence of national issues today could be debated, but an obvious one is the foreign policy challenges facing the country at this point in time -- a uniquely national set of issues. Americans' increased concern about foreign policy and defense issues is most evident in Gallup's open-ended question measuring public perceptions of the most important problems facing the country. Today, 56% of all problems respondents mention in answer to this question have to do with either the war on terrorism, the situation with Iraq, or a fear of war more generally. By contrast, fewer than 10% mentioned any type of international or defense concern in 1994, 1996, 1998 or 2000.

How do foreign policy concerns compare to key domestic concerns in the minds of voters? That question was addressed in a Gallup Poll taken last month. The following rank order of 15 issues is based on the percentage of Americans rating each as extremely important to their vote choice for Congress.

(A notable finding in this survey is the clustering of several specific foreign policy issues at the top of the ranking, but also the fact that a number of domestic policy issues -- such as the economy, education and health care -- rank close behind.)

 

Importance of Issues to Congressional Vote

Sep. 20-22, 2002

Extremely important

%

Terrorism

47

The situation in the Middle East

44

The possibility of war with Iraq

42

Economic conditions

37

Education

36

Healthcare

35

Prescription drugs for older
Americans

35

Social Security

34

Corporate corruption

33

Unemployment

28

The environment

28

Foreign affairs

27

Taxes

27

Gun policy

21

Abortion

18



In these final days before the elections, successive monthly declines in consumer confidence have fueled a belief that the anemic economy represents the primary domestic policy issue competing with foreign and national defense issues for voters' attention. Since August, Gallup has tracked the responses to a question asking Americans whether the possibility of war with Iraq or the economy is more important in their vote for Congress. The latest results show that among the public at large, as well as among registered voters, economic conditions edge out the possibility of war with Iraq as the more important election issue. But among the smaller group of respondents identified as most likely to vote, the figures are nearly reversed. By a 47% to 39% margin, likely voters say Iraq will be more important to their vote than the economy.

Thinking ahead to the elections for Congress this November, if you had to choose, which of the following issues will be more important to your vote -- [ROTATED: economic conditions, (or) the possibility of war with Iraq]?

 


Economic
conditions

Possi-
bility of war with Iraq


BOTH
(vol.)


NEITHER
(vol.)


OTHER
(vol.)


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

2002 oct. 21-22

Likely Voters

39

47

12

1

1

*

Registered Voters

45

41

12

1

1

*

National Adults

47

40

11

1

*

1

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) Volunteered response



How significant this focus among voters on the possibility of war with Iraq will be at the polls next Tuesday remains a bit unclear. On the one hand, Gallup's latest survey shows that Republicans are preferred over Democrats as the party better able to handle the Iraqi situation; Republicans are also preferred on every foreign- and defense-oriented issue tested in the poll. This includes terrorism, where Republicans have a 29-percentage-point edge over the Democrats; the possibility of war with Iraq, where Republicans have an 18-point edge; and foreign policy in general, where they lead by 14 points. Democrats have the advantage when it comes to the domestic policy agenda, particularly healthcare and prescription drugs for seniors, but also education and the economy.

 

Issue Importance vs. Which Party Can Better Handle Issue

 

Extremely
important

Republican
Advantage/
Disadvantage

Sep. 20-22

Oct. 21-22

%

%

Terrorism

47

+29

The situation in the Middle East

44

--

The possibility of war with Iraq

42

+18

Economic conditions

37

-11

Education

36

-12

Healthcare

35

-23

Prescription drugs for older
Americans

35

-22

Social Security

34

-18

Corporate corruption

33

--

Unemployment

28

--

The environment

28

--

Foreign affairs

27

+14

Taxes

27

--

Gun policy

21

+2

Abortion

18

--

 

-- Indicates partisan advantage not rated



On the other hand, despite the Republicans' strength on the paramount issue of terrorism, Gallup's latest generic ballot for Congress shows the Republicans trailing the Democrats among likely voters by 3 percentage points, 49% to 46%. Despite interim changes in public ratings of the issues and in perceptions of the two parties, the Democrats have maintained a slight lead on this measure in all of Gallup's election polling conducted since late September.

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]? IF UNSURE: 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

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 21-22

49

46

5

2002 Oct 3-6

48

47

5

2002 Sep 20-22

50

46

4



A special Gallup analysis conducted earlier this month suggests an important reason why the Iraqi issue may not be working as well as might be expected for the Republicans. The analysis by David Moore and Jeffrey Jones (see Related Items) shows that intensity of views about the possibility of war with Iraq favors the Democrats. Voters who cite Iraq as the most important issue to their vote are solidly opposed to invading Iraq, 66% to 33%. They also favor the Democratic candidates for Congress over the Republicans by a 16-point margin, 56% to 40%.

Republicans perform much better on the issue of terrorism. According to the analysis, "Voters who cite the war on terrorism as the most important issue give Republicans a 48-point margin of support, 74% to 26%. This margin is enough to overcome the advantages that Democrats enjoy on the Iraq and economy issues, as well as Social Security/Medicare and healthcare."

Thus, Republicans' chances of holding the House of Representatives and retaking the Senate could depend on the degree to which terrorism emerges as a key factor for voters on Election Day.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,018 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Oct. 21-22, 2002. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For results based on the subsample of 550 likely voters, the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5 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.

Thinking ahead to the elections for Congress this November, if you had to choose, which of the following issues will be more important to your vote -- [ROTATED: economic conditions, (or) the possibility of war with Iraq]?

 


Economic
conditions

Possi-
bility of war with Iraq


BOTH
(vol.)


NEITHER (vol.)


OTHER
(vol.)


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 21-22

39

47

12

1

1

*

2002 Sep 20-22

38

50

10

1

*

1

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 21-22

45

41

12

1

1

*

2002 Sep 20-22

44

47

8

*

*

1

2002 Sep 2-4

58

33

8

*

*

1

2002 Aug 19-21

54

37

8

*

*

1

National Adults

2002 Oct 21-22

47

40

11

1

*

1

2002 Sep 20-22

42

49

7

1

*

1

2002 Sep 2-4

57

34

7

*

0

2

2002 Aug 19-21

55

36

7

*

*

2

(vol.) Volunteered response

* Less than 0.5%



Thinking ahead to your vote in the elections for Congress this November, what will make the biggest difference in how you vote for Congress in your district -- [ROTATED: national issues, local or state issues, the candidate's character and experience, (or) the candidate's political party]?

 


National issues

Local/ state issues


Character/ experience


Political party


OTHER (vol.)


No
opinion

Gallup Poll

%

%

%

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 21-22

33

24

34

5

1

3

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 21-22

30

29

31

6

1

3

National Adults

2002 Oct 21-22

30

31

28

6

1

4

Pew Research Center

(RV) 2002 Jun 19-23

26

30

33

5

2

4

(RV) 2000 Oct 4-8

21

42

21

9

1

6

(RV) 2000 Jul 19-23

18

40

32

6

1

3

(RV) 1998 Oct 28-31

20

39

27

5

3

6

(RV) 1998 Oct 14-18

23

36

28

7

1

5

(RV) 1998 Aug 27-Sep 8

22

34

33

5

2

4

(RV) 1998 Jun 4-8

22

37

32

4

1

4

(RV) 1998 Mar 25-29

18

37

35

6

1

3

(RV) 1996 Oct 31-Nov 2

23

38

25

6

2

6

(RV) 1996 Oct 14-20

19

45

26

7

1

2

(RV) 1996 Sep 25-29

25

38

24

6

2

5

(RV) 1996 Sep 5-8

18

42

30

6

1

3

CNN/Time

(NA) 2002 May 22-23

32

30

26

7

--

5

Times Mirror/PSRA

(RV) 1994 Nov 3-5

22

38

30

5

1

4

(RV) 1994 Oct 20-24

22

38

29

3

3

5

(vol.) Volunteered response

(RV) Registered Voters

(NA) National Adults



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. Economic conditions

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

36

47

8

9

2002 Sep 20-22

41

46

6

7



B. The possibility of war with Iraq

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

50

32

9

9

2002 Sep 20-22

52

33

7

8



C. Foreign affairs

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

47

33

10

10

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

49

33

10

8

2002 May 28-29 ^

46

27

15

12

^

Asked of a half sample.



D. Healthcare

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

29

52

10

9

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

26

61

7

6

^

Asked of a half sample.



E. Terrorism

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

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.



F. Social Security

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

31

49

10

10

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

31

55

6

8

2002 Jun 28-30

38

48

8

6

2002 May 28-29 ^

33

43

14

10

^

Asked of a half sample.



G. Education

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

34

46

11

9

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

31

53

10

6

2002 Jun 28-30

43

43

8

6

2002 May 28-29 ^

35

41

14

10

^

Asked of a half sample.



H. Gun policy

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

40

38

10

12

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

41

42

7

10

2002 May 28-29 ^

43

35

10

12

^

Asked of a half sample.



I. Prescription drugs for older Americans

 


Republicans


Democrats

NO DIFFERENCE (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 21-22

29

51

10

10

2002 Sep 20-22 ^

28

58

6

8

2002 May 28-29

29

45

13

13

(vol.) Volunteered response

^

Asked of a half sample.



SUMMARY TABLE: CONGRESS HANDLING OF ISSUES/PROBLEMS

 

2002 Oct 21-22
(sorted by "advantage")


Republicans


Democrats


Advantage

%

%

%

Terrorism

52

23

+29

The possibility of war with Iraq

50

32

+18

Foreign affairs

47

33

+14

Gun policy

40

38

+2

Economic conditions

36

47

-11

Education

34

46

-12

Social Security

31

49

-18

Prescription drugs for older Americans

29

51

-22

Health care

29

52

-23

+

Advantage indicates Republican lead

-

Advantage indicates Democratic lead



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