Ipsos-Reid/Cook Political Report: Congressional Preference Does Not Favor Democrats

Midterm Election Party Preference Is "thisclose" - Here's Why In September, Bush's Handling of Economy Became Less of a Factor

Between September 16 and September 19 and October 1 and October 3, 2002, Ipsos-Reid US Public Affairs interviewed a representative sample of 2,000 adults nationwide, including 1,520 registered voters. The margin of error for the combined surveys is +/- 2.2% for all adults and +/- 2.6% for registered voters.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Among registered voters, 44% want to see Democrats win control of Congress in next month's elections, and 43% want to see Republicans in control. Among the most likely voters in our poll, the order is reversed: 45% want Republicans in charge, 44% Democrats. Registered voters who do not consider themselves close to either the Democratic or Republican parties are evenly divided, with 27% preferring Democratic control and 26% Republican control.

And if the election for Congress were held today, would you want to see the Republicans or Democrats win control of Congress?

Congressional partisan preference is closely divided because some key factors that often drive midterm elections--concerns about the direction the President is taking the country, particularly on domestic and economic policy--are not currently in play.

Statistical Analysis of Factors Affecting Congressional Voting, January - September

Democrats have failed to make the 2002 midterm election a referendum on Bush economic and domestic policies. This conclusion is based on a special Ipsos-Reid analysis of the factors driving Congressional partisan preference based on 18,000 interviews conducted in January through September. The inability of Democrats--especially in a time of war talk--to get voters to choose between the Bush economic policies and those of the Democratic Party leave voters drifting toward a midterm election vote that endorses and supports the party of the Commander-in-Chief.

Ipsos-Reid learned:

  • In the first quarter, January through March, Democrats held their own on Congressional preference despite Bush's stratospheric job approval ratings. That was because the Congressional vote was focused on policy issues--Bush's handling of the economy in particular.
  • In June, consumer attitudes collapsed, according to the Ipsos-Reid CASH Index questions on Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household. Democrats caught up, and took the lead from Republicans in Ipsos- Reid/Cook Political Report polls over the summer. In August, as in the first quarter, the chief driver of Congressional preference were attitudes on Bush's handling of the economy.
  • In September, war talk began in earnest, and the basis for Congressional preference answers shifted away from feelings about how Bush handles economic issues. Democratic voters are driven by concerns about the economy itself, but Independent and Republican voters are not. Fewer voters are being driven by concerns about Bush's economic policies than at any time all year.
  • Democratic candidates have not made Bush economic policies the issue, even though few voters strongly defend Bush's economic policies. In fact, there is a complete absence of evidence that Republican voters will to vote for Republicans for Congress because of confidence in Bush's handling of the economy.

Four weeks in politics represents a lifetime. The Congressional vote seems to be as evenly divided today as the Presidential vote proved to be in November 2000--and trends could move in either direction. But with evidence that voters are not voting based on their opinions of how Bush handles economic and domestic policy, Democratic candidates will not catch a tail wind from voter concerns about those domestic and economic policy issues--unless and until Democratic candidates change the way voters frame their vote decisions.

    For more information on this release, please contact: Thomas Riehle President Ipsos-Reid US Public Affairs 202.463.7300

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