Exclusive poll: Republican support rises ahead of Election Day, with inflation driving voters
After SCOTUS reversed Roe v. Wade, some Democrats thought the issue would disrupt typical midterm factors like views of the economy. But the new poll shows many voters going back to basics.
Republicans are resurgent as the midterm campaign heads into its final stretch, an exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, amid angst about President Joe Biden’s leadership and the nation’s economy.
As Americans feel the bite of inflation in their daily lives, from eating out less often to canceling vacations, voters overwhelmingly view the election as a way to send a message to the White House – and by double digits, that message is to change course.
On a generic ballot, one naming parties but not individual candidates, those surveyed now support the Republican congressional candidate over the Democratic one by 49%-45%, a turnaround since the USA TODAY poll taken in July, when Democrats led 44%-40%. The findings stoke GOP hopes of gaining control of the House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 elections, and with that, new powers to confront the Democratic White House.
Democratic congressional candidates have held their support since the summer, ticking up 1 percentage point, but most of the 16% of voters who were undecided then have now made up their minds and moved to the GOP. As early voting is opening in many states, just 6% remain undecided.
The poll of 1,000 likely voters, taken by landline and cellphone Oct. 19-24, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The July poll was of registered voters.
The generic ballot is an imperfect way to predict how the elections will turn out. But the trend lines have proved valuable in signaling which party is gaining ground and which one is losing it.
More from the poll: What voters predict a GOP House majority would do
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Economic gloom despite Biden’s reassurances
Pessimism is running deep about the economy.
Biden’s upbeat reassurances – that the job market remains strong and that a recession isn’t inevitable – aren’t breaking through with voters. Two-thirds of those surveyed, 66%, say the nation is already in a recession or a depression. Just 10% say it’s in a recovery.
Sixty-one percent report that they are eating out less often; 50% have postponed or canceled vacations, 47% have cut back on groceries, 45% are driving less.
Hispanics have been hit particularly hard. Nearly 6 in 10 are foregoing vacations and driving less, and 44% say the economy is their top issue, more than either whites or Blacks.
The issue of inflation – and the feeling that the White House hasn’t done enough to address it – is helping Republicans score significant inroads among Hispanic and Black voters, both demographic groups that Democrats have long relied on for support. Now 40% of Hispanics and 21% of Blacks are backing the Republican candidate.
To compare, Republican Donald Trump carried 12% of Blacks and 32% of Hispanics in the 2020 presidential election, according to network exit polls.
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Huge gender gap on abortion
After the Supreme Court reversed the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June, some Democratic strategists predicted opposition to the ruling that struck down abortion rights would disrupt other factors that typically determine midterms, including views of the economy and of the sitting president.
But the new poll shows much of midterm politics going back to basics. On a list of seven issues, 37% chose the economy/inflation as the most important issue determining their vote. Abortion, which ranks second, was cited by half that number, 18%.
Asked specifically whether inflation or abortion mattered more to them, those surveyed chose inflation by a double-digit margin, 56%-40%.
That said, the abortion issue continues to resonate with many women, and it is contributing to an enormous gender gap among independent voters. Independent women favor the Democratic candidate by 11 points, 51%-40%. Independent men support the Republican candidate by 22 points, 57%-35%.
Exclusive: Concern about abortion explodes among Democrats, fueling a push to vote
“Had Roe v. Wade not been overturned, independent women may have voted for the GOP congressional candidate along with their male counterparts on strictly the issue of inflation and a wobbly economy,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “Connecting the data points, independent women are venting their anger toward the Supreme Court by breaking with men and voting for the Democrat, despite the economy and other issues.”
Message to Biden: Change course
Midterms are often seen as a referendum on the president, and most voters see this election as a way to send a message to Biden. Forty-three percent agree with the statement, “I want my vote to change the direction President Biden is leading the nation,” while 28% say instead, “I want my vote to support the direction President Biden is leading the nation.”
Just 25% say their vote “doesn’t have much to do with President Biden and his policies.”
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Biden’s job rating has improved since July, though it remains anemic. Now, 44% approve of the job he’s doing as president; 53% disapprove. In July, it was 39%-56%.
His current standing with voters is almost the same as Donald Trump the month before the midterms during his presidency. In the USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll in October 2018, Trump’s rating stood at 43%-54%.
In that election, Democrats gained 41 seats and took control of the House. Republicans gained two seats in the Senate, retaining control.
In this election, Republicans need a net gain of five seats to win control of the House and a net gain of a single seat to win control of the Senate.