PRINCETON, NJ -- A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans saying the Republicans in Congress would do a better job than the Democrats in Congress of handling seven of nine key election issues. The parties are essentially tied on healthcare, with the environment being the lone Democratic strength.
The Republicans' advantage on most issues is an indication of the currently favorable political environment for the party. Of particular note is the parity between the two parties on healthcare, an issue on which Americans historically have viewed the Democrats as superior.
A similar USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in October 2006, just prior to Democrats' major gains in that fall's elections, highlights the potential implications of these findings. That poll, which includes several issues measured in the current survey, found the Democrats leading on all eight issues tested at that time, including some usual Republican strengths like terrorism and moral values.
With Republicans now having the advantage on most issues, the party may be poised to make major gains in congressional seats, just as the Democrats did in 2006. Indeed, Gallup tracking of registered voters' preferences in the 2010 generic ballot for Congress continues to find the Republicans ahead of the Democrats, as it has for the past five weeks.
The Economy Matters Most
The Democrats' advantage on the issue of the environment is likely not something the party can leverage to improve its 2010 electoral fortunes, as Americans rank it at the bottom of the list in terms of its importance to their vote. Rather, economic concerns are paramount, with a majority of Americans rating the economy, jobs, and federal spending (along with government corruption) as extremely important.
The Republican advantages on these economic matters range from a low of +5 on jobs to a high of +15 on federal spending. Terrorism -- the issue on which Republicans have the greatest advantage over Democrats -- is rated as very important by 47% of Americans, putting it in the middle of the list.
Republicans' perceptual advantage on most key election issues reinforces the party's advantageous positioning heading into the stretch run of the 2010 election campaign. It is not clear whether Americans give the Republicans the edge on these issues because they have confidence in the GOP to make progress in addressing the major problems facing the country, or whether the ratings have more to do with the public's frustration with the incumbent Democratic Party's performance to date.
The Democrats' hopes for improving their fortunes may hinge on convincing voters they have superior plans for jump-starting the economy, the issue of uppermost importance in Americans' minds. That could be tough to do when, after nearly 20 months of Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House, Americans' opinions of the economy remain negative and have become more pessimistic in recent weeks.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 27-30, 2010, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only 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, education, region, 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 continental 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/.