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Obama, National Issues Play Large Role in Voter Preferences

Obama, National Issues Play Large Role in Voter Preferences

PRINCETON, NJ -- By 38% to 24%, Tuesday's voters are more likely to be using their vote for Congress to send a message that they oppose President Obama than to signal that they support him, while 37% say they will not be sending a message with their vote.

Will Your Vote for a Candidate Be Made in Order to Send a Message That You Support Barack Obama, Be Made in Order to Send a Message That You Oppose Barack Obama, or Will You Not Be Sending a Message About Barack Obama With Your Vote? 1998-2010 Midterm Election Trend, for Obama, Bush, and Clinton


Obama has been front and center in these midterm elections, both as a target for disaffected Republican voters and as a campaigner for Democratic candidates. The tendency of today's likely voters to be sending a message against Obama rather than in support of him is similar to 2006 when more voters were issuing a message against President George W. Bush than for him. By contrast, in 2002 and 1998, voters were either mostly casting their vote as a show of support for the president or were evenly divided in their intentions.

These results are based on likely voters for each election, using Gallup's final pre-election polls. The 2010 results come from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Oct. 28-31, showing Republicans leading the Democrats among likely voters, 55% to 40%.

Pulled Toward the GOP or Pushed Away From the Democrats?

A compelling question about likely voters' overall preference for the Republicans this year is whether their vote reflects more of an attraction to the Republican Party or a reaction against the Democratic Party. Among those supporting Republican candidates, 54% say their vote is more a vote for the Republican candidate, while 32% call it mainly a vote against the Democratic candidate. This compares with 67% of Democratic backers saying they are voting for their candidate and 21% voting against the Republican candidate.

Generally speaking, the party that has the advantage in "anti-votes" -- this year, the Republicans -- is the party that wins the majority. The 32% of Republican likely voters who say they are voting mainly against the Democrat is similar to the percentage of Democratic supporters who were voting against the Republicans in 2006 -- then 38%. It is also similar to the 33% of Republican voters who were mainly voting against the Democrat in 1994.

Even so, while antipathy toward the Democrats does account for some voting for Republicans, it is not overwhelming. The majority of GOP voters still say their vote is for their party's candidate rather than against the other party's candidate.

Midterm Choice a Vote for Chosen Candidate or Against the Opposing Candidate? 1994, 2006, 2010 Trend

National Issue Voting Prevails for Second Time

Given four factors to consider when choosing a congressional candidate, 41% of voters this year cite national issues, making them the top factor. Another 23% choose the character and experience of a candidate, 21% choose local and state issues, and 12% choose the candidate's political party.

This emphasis on "national issues" is similar to what Gallup found in 2006 -- another election in which frustration with the party in power seemed to be driving the vote -- but significantly higher than in the three previous elections.

Prior to 2006, voters gave national issues relatively lower importance. In 2002, character/experience was the most-often-cited factor, while in 1998 and 1994, voters were most likely to say local and state issues were the most important.

What Will Make the Biggest Difference in How You Vote for Congress in Your District -- National Issues, Local or State Issues, the Candidate's Character and Experience, or the Candidate's Political Party?

The responses to this question broken out by party support the general idea that for those identifying with the "out" party this year -- or no party at all -- the vote is more to send a message about national issues than it is to send a message on local issues, the candidate's particular character and experience, or his or her political party. Republicans and, to a lesser degree, independents are most likely to name national issues as their top priority in voting, while Democrats give about equal weight to national issues, local and state issues, and character.

Primary Factor in 2010 Midterm Vote Choice (National Issues, Local/State Issues, Candidate's Character, Candidate's Political Party), by Party ID, October 2010

Relatively High Hopes That a GOP Majority Will Benefit Nation

When asked about the impact this year's midterm elections will have on the country, 45% of likely voters say the country will be better off if Republicans control Congress, 23% say it will be better off if Democrats control Congress, and 28% say the country will be the same regardless.

The percentage saying the country will be better off with Republican victory is higher than in 2002, when the Republicans gained eight seats. It is also higher than the percentage saying the country would be better off with a Democratic victory in 2006, when the Democrats gained 31 seats and control of the House for the first time in 12 years.

Do You Think the Country Would Be Better Off it the Republicans Controlled Congress, if the Democrats Controlled Congress, or Would the Country Be the Same Regardless of Which Party Controlled Congress? 2002-2010 Midterm Election Year Trend

The relatively strong support for Republicans on this measure compared with previous years comes partly from the high level of Republicans saying the country would be better off with their party in control of Congress. However, it is also owing to the relatively large segment of independents -- 41% -- saying the country will benefit from a Republican majority. This is by far the highest proportion of independents believing that either party will make a positive difference in the country that Gallup has seen in recent midterms.

At the same time, 65% of Democrats say the country will be better off with a Democratic majority, identical to 2002 but much lower than in 2006.

Do You Think the Country Would Be Better Off if the Republicans Controlled Congress, if the Democrats Controlled Congress, or Would the Country Be the Same Regardless of Which Party Controlled Congress? 2002-2010 Midterm Election Year Trend

Bottom Line

If Republicans win the majority in the U.S. House on Tuesday, 2010 will join 2006 and 1994 as the most recent elections in which power changed hands in Congress. In addition to the indication of strong Republican gains provided by the generic congressional ballot results, several broader voter attitudes point to an impending change of power:

  • More voters currently say their vote is a message against the sitting president rather than for him, a pattern also seen in 2006, but not in 2002 and 1998. This question was not asked in 1994.
  • Voters backing candidates from the minority party (currently Republicans) are more likely to say their vote is mainly a vote against the other party than are voters who are backing the majority party's candidates (currently Democrats). In 1994 and 2006, the winning party was the one more voters supported as a vote against the other party.
  • Voters are more likely to say the country will be better off with the Republicans in charge than the Democrats. In each of the last two midterms, 2006 and 2002, the party leading on this won the majority of U.S. House seats.

Learn more about Gallup's likely voter models for the 2010 midterm congressional elections.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll based on likely voters are based on the subsample of 1,539 survey respondents deemed most likely to vote in the November 2010 midterm elections, according to a series of questions measuring current voting intentions and past voting behavior. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Based on past voting history in United States midterm elections and current interest in the election, turnout is assumed to be 45% of the voting-age population.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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