Americans are closely divided over which party’s candidate they would support in their congressional districts, with preferences in competitive districts tilting toward Republicans, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS. But about 4 in 10 voters say neither party’s candidates in their congressional districts have a clear plan for solving the country’s problems.
Among likely voters nationwide, the race is a tight split, with 50% backing the Democratic candidate and 47% behind the Republican. But in competitive congressional districts, Democratic support among likely voters dips and preferences tilt toward the Republicans: 48% of likely voters in that group prefer the Republican candidate, 43% the Democrat.
Voters are narrowly more likely to say that Republican candidates near them have a clear plan for solving the country’s problems (32%) than they are to say the same about Democratic candidates (28%). In a notable party divide, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to see their own party’s candidates as having a clear plan for solving problems (71% of Republicans say GOP candidates have such a plan vs. 59% of Democrats who say the same about their party’s nominees). A wide swath of voters – 41% nationwide, including 62% of independent voters – say they see neither party’s candidates as having a clear plan for solving problems.
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Overall, voters nationwide split over whether Republicans’ policies would move the country in the right direction or the wrong one should they win control of Congress (51% say the right direction among registered voters compared to the 48% who say the wrong direction), but the GOP has a wider advantage in competitive districts (54% say the GOP would take the country in the right direction if they won control vs. 45% who say they would go in the wrong direction). Both nationally and in competitive districts, about an equal share of voters say they feel strongly in either direction about the likely effect of a GOP victory.
Asked which party’s candidates running for Congress in the area where they live have the right priorities, registered voters are again split (40% Republicans, 39% Democrats), even as they narrowly give Democratic candidates an advantage as more likely to agree with them on the most important issues (43% to 39%).
Republican registered voters nationwide and in competitive congressional districts are a bit more likely to say they are deeply motivated to vote than are Democratic registered voters (52% extremely motivated among Republicans nationally, 46% among Democrats; in competitive districts, it’s 55% among Republicans vs. 45% among Democrats).
Democratic candidates do hold some advantages, though. Registered voters nationwide are more likely to see local Democratic candidates than their Republican rivals as caring about people like them (40% to 34%), working to protect democracy (43% to 36%), and uniting the country rather than dividing it (37% to 31%). And voters are more likely to see Republican candidates as too extreme (40%) than Democratic ones (36%).
The economy and inflation remain a central focus for nearly all voters, with broad majorities saying each of those is extremely or very important in deciding their vote for who to send to Congress (90% economy, 84% inflation). Voting rights and election integrity (85% important) and gun policy (83% important) are similarly important. Fewer say abortion (72%) or immigration (72%) are as important, with 60% calling climate change important to their vote.
In competitive congressional districts, the economy and inflation take on added importance. While 59% of registered voters nationally call the economy extremely important to their vote, that rises to 67% in those districts, and the share calling inflation that important rises from 56% to 64%. The shares who consider voting and elections, gun policy or abortion extremely important are about the same nationally as they are in these battleground districts (61% nationally vs. 59% in competitive districts on voting, 57% vs. 56% on gun policy, and 52% vs. 55% on abortion).
Although results from the same poll released Wednesday revealed that views of the economy remain sharply negative, those figures have rebounded somewhat from summer lows. With that shift, Democrats and independents have become less likely to consider the economy or inflation a deeply critical issue. As that shift has occurred, the wide gaps in issue priorities by party that have been consistent across polling this year have grown.
For Democrats in the new poll, voting and elections (70% extremely important), abortion (63%), gun policy (63%) and climate change (60%) are the most highly rated issues, while among Republicans, it is the economy (75%), inflation (73%), immigration (65%) and voting (64%) at the top.
The demographic divides the poll reveals ahead of this election suggest that core Democratic groups such as younger voters, Black and Latino voters, and even to some degree women, are expressing less support for Democratic candidates than they have in recent past elections. A CNN Poll among registered voters in early October 2018 found that 59% of women backed Democratic candidates in their district; now, 53% do. Among voters of color, 69% backed Democrats then but 59% do now. Latino voters break 52% for the Democrats, 23% for the Republican and 21% say they support neither candidate. Black voters split 81% for the Democrat to 11% for the Republican. And among voters younger than the age of 45, Democrats held a 15-point advantage in 2018 compared with just 8 points now. Likely voters in each of these groups currently tilt a bit more Democratic than registered voters, but motivation to vote among younger voters and voters of color is markedly lower than among older voters or White voters.
Nearly half of voters say President Joe Biden will not be a factor in their vote for Congress (47%), but those who do feel their vote will be cast to send a message are more apt to be sending one of opposition (28%) than support (23%). That’s largely because Republicans are more likely to say they’re voting to oppose Biden (61%) than Democrats are to say they’re voting to support him (51%). In competitive congressional districts, that gap is even larger, with 63% of Republicans saying they will cast a vote to express opposition to the President while only 35% of Democrats say they’re voting to show support.
Former President Donald Trump – though also not a factor for about half of voters (50%) – prompts a more even partisan reaction, and may work in Democrats’ favor in the competitive districts. All told, 28% of voters nationwide say they are voting to send a message of opposition to Trump while 20% say they’ll be sending a message of support. In competitive districts, 54% of Democrats say their vote will be to express opposition to the former President while 47% of Republicans say they’ll be voting to express support.
The new CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS on September 3 through October 5 among a random national sample of 1,982 adults initially reached by mail, including 1,577 registered voters and 1,198 likely voters. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points; it is 3.5 points among registered voters and 4.0 among likely voters. The survey includes an oversample of adults living in 50 competitive congressional districts, with districts chosen based on publicly available race ratings at the time the sample was chosen. Results among the 540 registered voters in that sample have an error margin of plus or minus 5.4 points; it is 5.6 points among the 484 likely voters. That subset was weighted to reflect its proper share of the overall adult population of the United States.