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Americans' Intensity Running High Before U.S. Midterms

Americans' Intensity Running High Before U.S. Midterms

Story Highlights

  • 48% in U.S. have given "quite a lot" of thought to elections for Congress
  • 50% are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year
  • Majorities rate economy, gun policy as "extremely important" to vote

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A recent Gallup poll finds Americans giving more thought to November's elections for Congress than usual at this stage of the campaign and expressing above-average enthusiasm about voting. They are also placing unusually high importance on certain issues -- including the economy, gun policy and abortion -- in determining their vote for Congress.

The nationally representative poll of U.S. adults was conducted June 1-20 after a draft of the Supreme Court's opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization was leaked in May, but before the Supreme Court issued its final decision overturning Roe v. Wade in late June.

Mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 31 people dead, including 19 children, preceded the poll -- but the poll was conducted before Congress passed bipartisan gun legislation and the Supreme Court ruled the U.S. Constitution protects the right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.

Thought Given to Midterm Elections Unusually High

Nearly half of U.S. adults say they have given "quite a lot" of thought to this year's midterm elections. This compares with no more than 37% saying the same in the summer months before the 1998 through 2014 midterm elections. Gallup did not measure this in the summer of 2018; however, today's 48% is already nearly as high as the 54% with the same degree of thought at the end of the 2018 election season. Given that, and the tendency for thought to increase over the course of an election year, it's likely that today's figure is higher than it would have been in the summer of 2018.

Public thought about midterm elections increases between the summer and fall of election years, swelling by seven to 27 percentage points in Gallup's election-year polls since 1998. If that pattern holds, Americans' attention to the midterm elections this fall could exceed the previous high of 55% measured in October 2010.


Enthusiasm About Voting Is on the High End, Historically

Half of Americans report that they are "more enthusiastic than usual" about voting compared with previous elections, while 43% are less enthusiastic than usual and 7% volunteer that they are as enthusiastic as in the past.

Enthusiasm about voting is not so much an indicator of what the turnout rate will be as it is a potential clue to which party is likely to fare better in the election. Gallup analysis has found that the more enthusiastic party is not necessarily the one with higher turnout but does tend to correspond with the party that ultimately wins the most seats -- indicating that partisans have an advanced sense of the direction in which a given election is headed.

Given this dynamic, enthusiasm doesn't normally increase throughout an election year the way thought given to the election does. Thus, to evaluate what current enthusiasm might portend for the election this fall, it can be compared to Gallup's final preelection enthusiasm trends for all prior midterm years.

The 50% who today feel more enthusiastic about voting is on the high end of this trend, although lower than the 64% found in October 2018 and tied with the level found in October 2010. Enthusiasm was relatively low from 1994 to 2002, with 37% or 38% feeling more enthusiastic in those years. Since then, it has mostly varied between 46% and 64%, with the exception of a lower 40% reading in 2014.


The heightened enthusiasm among national adults seen in each of the past two midterm election years reflects relatively high percentages of Republicans and Democrats saying they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting. Less than half of either party group felt this much enthusiasm prior to 2006.

The other pattern evident in these trends is that Republicans' enthusiasm eclipsed Democrats' in midterm years when Republicans picked up a substantial number of seats in Congress -- those being 1994, 2010 and 2014. Likewise, Democratic enthusiasm outpaced Republican enthusiasm in 2006, leading up to a big seat gain for Democrats. On the other hand, party enthusiasm was similarly high among both parties in 2018, a year that saw strong Democratic gains.

In light of this pattern, Republicans' 10-point enthusiasm edge this year is a generally positive sign for the GOP. It is also consistent with several national mood indicators that are highly favorable for Republicans. However, all of these measures predate the Supreme Court's end-of-term decisions that may serve as motivation to vote for Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are upset with those decisions. An update of this measure closer to the elections by Gallup will provide a better indication of which, if either, party appears poised for sizable seat gains.


Economy, Gun Policy, Abortion More Important Voting Issues Than in Past

The poll also asked U.S. adults to rate how important each of seven issues will be to their vote for Congress. Recent news events and public policy developments that have occurred since the poll was conducted may have affected various issues' importance to voters, but in the latest poll, the economy outpaces the other six issues in importance. A broad 85% of U.S. adults say the economy is extremely (53%) or very (32%) important to their vote.

Gun policy is not far behind the economy in importance to vote choice, with 52% of U.S. adults saying it is extremely and 28% very important. But again, this was before the federal government passed a new gun safety law and new incidents of gun violence -- most notably, the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. Majorities in the poll say each of the five other issues is very or extremely important.


The importance of gun policy and abortion to vote choice are by far the highest on record and may now be even higher given the events that transpired after the poll was completed. The economy was less important as a voting issue in 2018 when economic conditions were relatively good, but it has reemerged as a top voting issue this year, as it was in 2010 and 2014. The importance of immigration and taxes are each down from 2018.

The importance of climate change is essentially unchanged from 2018, although the Supreme Court's ruling that limits the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon emissions was handed down after the poll was conducted and may affect Americans' views on the issue.

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to say the economy, immigration and taxes are important to their vote. The opposite is true for gun policy, abortion and climate change. Partisans assign the same level of importance to relations with Russia, which was asked for the first time this election cycle.


Bottom Line

Even before the Supreme Court wrapped up its term with a number of high-profile decisions and before more mass shootings occurred in the country that spurred federal action on the matter, Americans were paying closer than usual attention to the elections, feeling more enthusiastic about voting and giving more weight to candidates' positions on key issues in determining their vote for Congress.

All of those dynamics are likely to continue or even be reinforced by recent events. The question is whether these events, and others to come, are more motivating for one party than the other, resulting in Republicans either strengthening or losing the slight advantage they held in June on voter enthusiasm.

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