Neither Republican nor Democratic candidates for Congress are seen by most voters as having the right priorities, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. The survey finds voters closely divided in their preference for this year’s midterm elections and on the potential consequences of a Republican victory.
Two-thirds of registered voters (67%) say that Democratic candidates for Congress in the area where they live aren’t paying enough attention to the country’s most important problems, with just 31% saying that these candidates have the right priorities. A similar 65% say that Republican candidates in their area aren’t paying enough attention to important national problems, with 33% saying that GOP congressional candidates have the right priorities.
Economic issues are currently voters’ central concern. Nearly 7 in 10 voters (69%) currently call the economy extremely important to their congressional vote, and 67% say the same of inflation. Smaller majorities place the same level of importance on voting rights and election integrity (61%), and gun policy (60%). About half rate education (51%), abortion (50%) or crime (49%) as extremely important, and fewer say the same of immigration (42%), climate change (34%) or the coronavirus pandemic (26%). That focus on the economy has increased since earlier this year, even as the survey’s field period spanned a series of events including the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the passage of a new gun law and several hearings of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
Asked which of those issues they most want to hear candidates address, roughly half of voters choose either the economy (32%) or inflation (19%), with 14% saying guns, and fewer than 1 in 10 picking any of the remaining issues. Republican and Republican-leaning voters are particularly focused on economic issues: 71% say they most want to hear about the economy or inflation, with 10% naming immigration. Democratic-aligned voters have a more diverse array of top concerns, with 32% most wanting to hear about the economy or inflation, 23% about gun policy, 15% about voting rights and election integrity, 11% about climate change and 10% about abortion.
Across a spectrum of major policy issues, majorities say that each party’s positions are generally mainstream – the only exception is abortion, where most call Republicans too extreme. Voters are more likely to see Democrats as in the mainstream on voting rights and election integrity, immigration and abortion than to say the same of the Republicans. But they’re more apt to see Republicans as mainstream on the economy than Democrats.
Voters are evenly split on which party’s candidate they’d currently prefer in their congressional district, with 46% picking the Democrats and 46% the Republicans. That’s a modest recovery for Democrats from CNN’s May polling fielded in the days immediately following the leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe, but generally on a par with generic ballot numbers from earlier in the year. In July 2014, ahead of a good midterm year for Republicans, Democrats had a 4-point edge on this metric; in June 2018, Democrats led by a more substantial 8 points. Republican voters continue to hold a modest enthusiasm advantage, with 35% calling themselves extremely enthusiastic about voting, compared with 28% of Democratic voters. There’s less difference in voters’ reported levels of motivation: both 51% of GOP voters and 48% of Democratic voters say they are extremely motivated.
Beyond their congressional preference in their own district, voters are closely split on whether the country would be better off (41%) or worse off (38%) if the GOP takes Congress, with 20% saying it wouldn’t make a difference.
Most voters who anticipate that a GOP takeover would benefit the country cite economic issues (54%) when asked what they think would improve under Republican control, including 33% who mention economy overall and 18% inflation. The only other issue mentioned by more than 10% is immigration or border security. “They at least understand the economy and attempt to get the government out of the way, mostly,” said one voter surveyed. “They are by no means perfect but always do better than [Democrats] on economic issues.”
Those who dread the prospects of a Republican victory, by contrast, are most likely to cite gun policy (26%), democracy and voting rights (21%), abortion (13%), women’s rights (12%) and other civil liberties. “Frankly, an erosion of voting rights and our democracy along with women’s rights and protections for the LGBTQ+ community,” said another voter who answered the poll. “It’s terrifying.”
Neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump looks likely to lift congressional candidates’ standing in the general election. Only 32% of voters say they’d prefer a congressional candidate who supports Joe Biden, while 43% prefer one who opposes him, and 25% say it makes no difference. Trump fares slightly worse than Biden: 28% prefer a candidate who supports him, 49% a candidate who opposes him, and 23% have no preference. Both sets of numbers are largely unchanged from January.
The overwhelming majority (88%) of voters who approve of Biden plan to vote Democratic in this year’s midterms; among voters who disapprove, 70% plan to vote Republican and 19% to vote Democratic.
The 2022 midterms are shaping up amid an atmosphere of broad political discontent. Just 18% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job, down from an already-grim 27% last October – a shift due in large part to falling ratings among Democrats. The public also gives negative net favorability ratings to the Democratic Party (-13 net favorability), GOP (-13 net favorability), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (-26) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (-26). McCarthy remains broadly unknown, 24% have never heard of him and another 28% have no opinion – only 4% and 14% respectively say the same of Pelosi.
The Democratic Party is viewed by a majority of the public as generally within the mainstream in its positions on guns (57%), immigration (58%), abortion (58%), racial injustice (60%), the economy (60%) and voting rights and election integrity (64%).
The Republican Party is seen by a majority as out of step on one issue: abortion, on which 55% say its policies are too extreme. Most say the GOP holds mainstream positions on voting rights and election integrity (53%), immigration (53%), guns (54)%, racial injustice (60%) and the economy (67%).
Partisans’ feelings toward their own parties are generally warm, with 78% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans viewing their own parties favorably. And few view their own parties’ policies as too extreme. The highest share of in-party dissatisfaction comes with the GOP’s views on abortion policy, which 24% of Republicans call too extreme.
The new CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS June 13 through July 13 among a random national sample of 1,459 adults initially reached by mail, and is the third survey CNN has conducted using this methodology. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Results among the 1,203 registered voters in the survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.