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Democrats Lead Republicans in House Vote by Seven Points

Democrats Lead Republicans in House Vote by Seven Points

by Frank Newport, Jeffrey M. Jones, Lydia Saad and Joseph Carroll


PRINCETON, NJ -- The final USA Today/Gallup measure of Americans' voting intentions for Congress shows Democrats with a 51% to 44% lead over Republicans among likely voters. Although this margin has narrowed from previous USA Today/Gallup polls, it still suggests that Democrats have enough strength to gain a majority of House seats. Statistical models developed from previous midterm elections suggest that if the pattern of elections over the last decades continues this year, a national vote margin of seven points translates into the Democrats winning enough seats to give them a clear majority.

The USA Today/Gallup estimate of voting preferences of likely voters nationwide is 51% voting for the Democratic candidate and 44% for the Republican candidate. This is slightly narrowed from the 54% to 41% lead enjoyed by the Democrats in the Oct. 20-22 poll, and considerably narrower than the large 59% to 36% Democratic lead in early October.

The same trend is evident among registered voters. Democrats now lead by a 51% to 40% margin among this group, slightly lower than the 53% to 38% margin seen in the Oct. 20-22 poll.

From a longer-range perspective, the current registered-voter estimates are similar to those found throughout 2006. Democrats have averaged 52% across 19 polls conducted prior to this final poll in 2006 while Republicans have averaged 41% ("likely voter" estimates have been calculated only in USA Today/Gallup polls conducted since mid-September).

A Democratic Majority?

Historical election patterns have shown that the national vote for Congress aggregated across all 435 districts corresponds closely to the number of seats each party winds up with after the election.

Gallup has modeled the number of seats a party will control based on that party's share of the national two-party vote for the House of Representatives using historical voting data in midterm elections from 1946 to 2002. The model takes into account structural factors such as the party of the president and the majority party in Congress entering the elections. The results suggest that a party needs at least a two percentage-point advantage in the national House vote to win a majority of the 435 seats. Based on this historical analysis, the Democrats' seven-point margin suggests they will win a large enough share of the national vote to have a majority of the seats in the next Congress.

More specifically, taking the final survey's margin of error into account, the model predicts that the Democrats could gain anywhere from 11 seats on the low end to 58 seats on the high end -- with 35 seats being the most likely number. Given that Democrats need to gain just 15 seats to wrest control from Republicans, a Democratic takeover appears likely.

The model's estimates must be looked at with a note of caution. Efforts by state legislatures in recent years have attempted to insulate incumbent members of Congress from strong partisan tides. Congressional district lines have been drawn to make them safe for specific parties, which may reduce the impact of national tides or the national mood on election outcomes.

In the early part of the 20th century, it was not unusual for an election to bring about a change in party control of 50 House seats or more. In recent decades, the partisan shifts have been more modest, with the Republicans' 54-seat gain in 1994 a rare exception. It is therefore possible that this new era in redistricting may affect the historical relationship between vote share and seats. Still, it is unlikely that redistricting could be enough to deny a party with a seven-point advantage in the national vote the majority of House seats.

The data in the final poll were collected Nov. 2-5. It is always possible that last-minute changes in voter sentiment or turnout probabilities could alter the voting picture.

Likely Voters

The pool of likely voters this election appears more stocked with Democrats than in any recent midterm elections dating back to 1994. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters in Gallup's final sample are Democrats, 35% Republicans, and 28% independents. When party leanings of independent voters are taken into account, 51% of the likely electorate this coming Tuesday is Democratic-oriented, while 44% is Republican-oriented. This seven-point advantage for the Democrats is not dissimilar to the four-point Democratic advantage Gallup found in the final pre-election poll in 1998, but differs from 2002 and 1994, when the preponderance of likely voters (51% and 48%, respectively) were oriented toward the Republicans.

The share of the electorate by party is crucial to election outcomes because party supporters almost always vote for their own party's congressional candidates.

Among the public as a whole in the final pre-election poll, the Democrats have a 10-point advantage in party identification: 49% of Americans identify themselves as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party; 39% identify as or lean Republican. As noted, the Democratic lead is cut among likely voters to a seven-point Democratic advantage.

Vote by Key Demographic Groups

The structure of the vote among subgroups of the American population follows typical patterns.

Democrats do best among women, among nonwhites, in the East, among lower-income households, and among whites who do not attend church frequently.

There is virtually no difference in the vote intentions of Republican likely voters versus Democratic likely voters. Ninety-five percent of Democrats are voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, and 93% of Republican likely voters are voting for the Republican candidate. Independents tilt toward the Democratic candidate by a 53% to 38% margin.

The final poll underscores the continuing importance of religion in this election. Sixty-one percent of likely voters who are white and frequent churchgoers indicate they are voting for the Republican candidate in their district. Sixty percent of likely voters who are white but infrequent churchgoers indicate they are voting for the Democratic candidate in their district.

Key Indicators on Election Eve

The final pre-election survey continues to show that most key indicators assessing the political climate are not favorable toward the incumbent party:

  • President Bush's job approval rating is currently at 38%. This is the lowest Gallup job approval rating a president has had at the time of a midterm election since 1950.

  • Twenty-six percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, roughly the same that Gallup has measured throughout the last month, and near historical lows. Since September, congressional job approval has averaged just 26%.

  • The poll also finds 35% of Americans saying they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country right now, up slightly from 30% in mid-October. While still low, this satisfaction reading has not been this high since February.

  • A majority of Americans continue to evaluate the war in Iraq negatively, with 55% calling the decision to send U.S. troops there "a mistake." In all but one poll this year, the majority have expressed this negative view of the Iraq war.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,516 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 2-5, 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 1,362 registered voters, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Results for likely voters are based on the subsample of 1,007 survey respondents deemed most likely to vote in the November 2006 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 40% of the voting-age population.

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.

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