PRINCETON, NJ -- In the same week the U.S. Senate passed a major financial reform bill touted as reining in Wall Street, Democrats pulled ahead of Republicans, 49% to 43%, in voters' generic ballot preferences for the 2010 congressional elections.
The Democrats' six-point advantage in Gallup Daily interviewing from July 12-18 represents the first statistically significant lead for that party's candidates since Gallup began weekly tracking of this measure in March.
"The 51% of Republicans saying they are "very enthusiastic" about voting this fall is up from 40% the week prior, and is the highest since early April -- shortly after passage of healthcare reform."
Whether the Democrats' edge is sustainable remains to be seen. Republicans held a four-point or better lead over Democrats in three Gallup weekly averages thus far this year, but in each case, the gap narrowed or collapsed to a tie the following week.
Movement Seen Among Independents
With Republicans' and Democrats' support for their own party's candidates holding steady in the low 90s this past week, independents are primarily responsible for Democrats' improved positioning. Thirty-nine percent of independents favor the Democratic candidate in their district, up from 34% -- although slightly more, 43%, still favor the Republican.
Republican Enthusiasm Spikes
Simultaneous with increased support for Democratic congressional candidates, Gallup polling last week found Republican voters expressing significantly more enthusiasm about voting in the 2010 midterms. The 51% of Republicans saying they are "very enthusiastic" about voting this fall is up from 40% the week prior, and is the highest since early April -- shortly after passage of healthcare reform. Democratic enthusiasm is unchanged, at 28%.
It's possible the increased voter support for Democratic candidates this past week is linked with the Wall Street regulatory reform bill that passed in the U.S. Senate last Thursday, July 15. The financial reform bill is the second-biggest piece of legislation to get through Congress this year, after healthcare reform, and it enjoyed majority support. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll in June, 55% of Americans were in favor of legislation expanding government regulation of financial institutions -- including 72% of Democrats and 56% of independents. Only Republicans were generally opposed.
Last week also marks the second time that Republican enthusiasm for the fall elections has increased after congressional passage of a major Democrat-sponsored bill. Perhaps these events sharpen Republicans' focus on the opportunity to change Washington in November. Such animation could be crucial to turnout this fall, which could in turn determine the outcome of the midterms.
Since 1950, Gallup's final generic ballot measure, based on likely voters, has closely matched the total percentage of votes cast nationally for Democratic and Republican candidates in all 435 U.S. House races -- a statistic that bears a predictable relationship to the number of House seats won by each party. Gallup does not screen for likely voters until closer to Election Day, but historically, Republicans' turnout advantage in midterm elections changes the Republican-Democrat gap by five percentage points in the GOP's favor. Thus, if these numbers held through Election Day, the two parties would be nearly tied at the ballot box, with possibly a slight advantage for the Democrats.
Explore more Gallup data relating to the upcoming congressional midterm elections, including Gallup's complete generic ballot trend since 1950, in our Election 2010 key indicators interactive.
Editor's note: The original version of this story inadvertently referred to national adults rather than registered voters in the survey methods statement. The results reported here and in all Gallup generic ballot trends so far this year are based on registered voters; the survey methods statement now correctly reflects that.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking July 12-18, 2010, with a random sample of 1,535 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit https://www.gallup.com/.