Even as they struggled to persuade voters they should be trusted with the economy, Democrats remain unexpectedly competitive in the battle for Congress as the race to November’s midterms begins, according to a New York Times poll. /Siena College.
The surprising Democratic strength has been bolstered by falling gas prices and President Biden’s success in breaking the legislative deadlock in Washington to pass his agenda. That shift in political momentum helped boost the president’s approval rating by nine percentage points in just two months and doubled the proportion of Americans who believe the country is on the right track.
But Democrats are also benefiting from factors over which they had little control: the public outcry in response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of the federal right to abortion, and the return of former President Donald J. Trump to a presence calling the attention on the national stage.
Overall, 46 percent of registered voters say they support the Democratic congressional candidate in their district, compared with 44 percent of Republicans, a difference that is well within the poll’s margin of error. The findings are similar to those of the last Times/Siena poll in July, when voters preferred Democrats to Republican control of Congress by just one percentage point.
However, the fundamentals of the race — high inflation, an uncertain economy and an unpopular president — remain a challenge for Democrats. The national mood, though brighter than before in the summer, remains gloomy. Republicans still score higher on some social issues, including illegal immigration. And the president’s approval rating remains just 42 percent, as weak or weaker than the ratings of every president whose party lost control of Congress in midterm elections since 1978.
For now, the anger over abortion and the renewed attention on Trump have helped mask deep Democratic vulnerabilities that could ultimately make Republicans the favorites to retake Congress, if Republicans could refocus the electorate. in the economy and inflation. Republicans would lead by six percentage points in the race for Congress, if they could simply win over voters who say they agree more with the GOP on the economy.
Marvin Mirsch, 64, a self-identified independent from suburban Minneapolis, said he agreed with Republicans on economic issues but still planned to back Democrats in November. As a biomedical engineer, he attributed his vote in large part to one man: Trump.
“I think every person in the nation should work hard to get Donald Trump out of the Republican Party one way or another,” Mirsch said. “Because we need a healthy Republican Party, and it’s not now, he’s sick.”
The poll underscored how Republicans have been weakened by Trump’s decision to play a vocal role in his party’s primary. Voters said the word “extreme” better described Republicans than Democrats by a six-point margin, 43 percent to 37 percent. And, while they viewed economic issues as the most important, more voters said Democrats were focused on the most important issues than said Republicans were, by 40 percent to 38 percent.
While the poll didn’t directly ask voters how Trump weighed in their midterm vote, it did find Biden leading Trump by three percentage points, 45 percent to 42 percent, in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, almost identical to preferences. of voters in the race for Congress.
In contrast, voters trust Republicans more on the economy by a 14-point margin, 52 to 38 percent. And they say that economic issues will be more important to their vote than social issues by a margin of 18 points.
The State of the 2022 Midterms
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the November 8 general election.
Yet the 9 percent of voters who trust Republicans the most on economic issues and say those issues are the most important are voting Democrats anyway.
How Times reporters cover politics. We trust our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members can vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for political candidates or causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money or raising money for any political candidate or electoral cause.
Jeanine Spanjers, 44, of Racine, Wisconsin, said rising inflation had prompted her to change her lifestyle, including driving less, skipping vacations and even getting popcorn on herself when she goes to the movies. As a state employee, she also said she believed Democrats were handing out too many government subsidies, pointing to relief payments doled out during the pandemic.
“The thing that gets on my nerves is all this free stuff,” she said, criticizing how all the kids at her son’s school received food stamp cards, including families who could afford lunch. “Republicans would never do something like that. It discourages people from going out and doing something. I’m starting to feel like people are being rewarded for doing nothing.”
Still, Ms. Spanjers said she planned to vote only Democrat, saying abortion is her main issue. “I made that decision once, and I have two children,” she said. “There are people who can’t afford children and shouldn’t have children, or maybe it’s just not the right time in their life.”
The survey findings also suggest that Biden’s legislative successes have done relatively little to boost his or his party’s credibility on economic issues.
Only 36 percent of voters said they approved of a centerpiece of Biden’s legislative agenda, the health and climate spending bill passed by Congress last month known as the Inflation Reduction Act. More than a quarter said they had never heard of it. The country was divided on the administration’s student debt plan, with 49 percent saying they supported writing off up to $20,000 in federal student loans, compared to 45 percent saying they opposed.
Only 15 percent of voters said Biden’s policies had helped them personally, while 37 percent said his policies had hurt them. Nearly half said the president hadn’t made much of a difference in any way, including 59 percent of voters under the age of 30.
“I’ve been working since I was 16 and I don’t have a high school diploma, so the costs of inflation are really getting to me,” said Mykie Bush, 19, who works at a car dealership in the area. rural Oregon. “I can barely leave my house right now due to inflation.”
Still, Mrs. Bush said she planned to vote Democrat, saying her views on issues like abortion, immigration and LGBTQ rights outweighed her economic concerns: “At the end of the day, we’re not fighting politics. . We are fighting for our human rights.”
Democrats held an overwhelming 73 percent to 18 percent advantage among voters who said “social issues” like abortion or threats to democracy would be top of mind in their November vote, rather than economic issues like the employment and cost of living.
But on issues like immigration, crime and even gun policy that were likely to dominate the midterm campaign before the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Republicans appear to have significant advantages. Despite a summer of mass shootings, voters narrowly said they opposed a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Republican strength extends even to one of the most divisive items on Trump’s agenda, with voters narrowly supporting a border wall. And, by a 14-point margin, voters said they most agreed with the GOP’s stance on illegal immigration.
The electorate remains deeply divided across the demographic fault lines of the last election, with Democrats leading among white college graduates, young voters, and non-white voters; Republicans have a commanding advantage among white voters without a college degree. As in the July Times/Siena poll, Republicans show even greater strength among untitled white voters than they did in 2020, with an overwhelming 61 percent to 29 percent advantage among that group.
Jason Anzaldua, a Republican from Jefferson County, Ark., who is a police lieutenant in rural Redfield, said he couldn’t afford gas to transport his children to compete in rodeo events and had to sell some of his horses because of the price. of food was too high. But he said he was just as frustrated with what he saw as Biden’s disrespect for supporters of Trump and the MAGA movement.
“I take an oath to the Constitution to defend it, protect it, protect citizens here on the front lines of the United States,” Mr. Anzaldúa said. “So for him to stand up and tell me I’m part of the problem is a slap in the face as an American.”
Democrats and Republicans were almost equally likely to say they intended to vote in November, with 52 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats saying they were “almost certain” to vote.
Voters continue to believe that abortion should be mostly or always legal by a two-to-one margin. However, supporters of legal abortion rights enjoy an even bigger edge of enthusiasm: 52 percent of voters said they strongly opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Calf; only 19 percent said they strongly supported it.
“What has happened is unacceptable to me,” said James Moran, 82, a registered Republican from New Rochelle, New York, who said he planned to vote Democrat this year. “They have denied women the ability to control their own bodies. Should there be some limit on that? There are limits to everything, but everything within reason.”
The Times/Siena poll of 1,399 registered voters nationwide, including an oversample of 522 Hispanic voters, was conducted by telephone with live operators from September 6-14, 2022. The sampling error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. Cross tabulations and methodology are available here.
Kristen Bayrakdarian and Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.