The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Voters divided amid intense fight for control of Congress, poll finds

With six weeks to go, Republicans hold a firm lead on the economy, inflation and crime, but Democrats have the advantage on abortion and climate change

The fight for Congress in the midterm election is intense, with 47 percent of registered voters saying they plan to vote for a Republican House candidate and 46 percent saying they would vote for a Democrat.
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Heading into the final weeks of the midterm election campaign, Americans are split nationally in their vote for Congress, with Republicans holding sizable advantages on the economy, inflation and crime and Democrats far more trusted to handle the issues of abortion and climate change, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

With control of the House and Senate possibly shifting from Democrats to Republicans in November and the country deeply divided, 2 in 3 registered voters see this election as more important than past midterm campaigns. That’s the same percentage that said this in 2018 when turnout surged to the highest in a century.

At this point, both sides are highly motivated to turn out in November. Among registered Democratic voters, 3 in 4 say they are almost certain to vote compared with about 8 in 10 Republicans. Independents are less motivated. Four years ago, Democrats were about as mobilized as Republicans and had a clear lead in overall support. Eight years ago, when Democrats suffered losses, Republicans were more motivated.

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Historical trends have favored Republicans throughout this election year, and political forecasters still rate the GOP as likely to win the House. Earlier predictions of big GOP gains have been clouded by the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, spurring on abortion rights supporters, especially younger women. Legislative victories by Democrats and the defeat of a Kansas antiabortion referendum over the summer also appeared to boost morale among some Democrats.

The poll also surveyed Americans on their attitudes toward the ongoing investigations of former president Donald Trump by the Justice Department. A slim 52 percent majority says the former president should be charged with crimes for his handling of classified documents, his fundraising or for his actions related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

President Biden continues to be a drag on Democratic candidates this fall. The Post-ABC survey pegs his approval rating at 39 percent, with 53 percent disapproving, including 41 percent strongly disapproving. The share of Americans saying Biden has accomplished “a great deal” or “a good amount” has grown from 35 percent last November to 40 percent today, although a 57 percent majority still says he has not accomplished much or anything.

Still, the fight for control of Congress is an intense one, with Democrats finding themselves competitive among critically important independent voters. But in the most competitive congressional districts, the poll finds Republicans with the advantage.

Among registered voters, 47 percent say they would vote for the Republican in their House district in November while 46 percent say they would vote for the Democrat. That finding is about the same as it was in April. In February, Republicans held a seven-point advantage. Democrats’ standing is weaker than in 2018, when they led by seven points in national House support before winning control of the chamber.

Political independents narrowly favor Republicans, 47 percent to 42 percent, in the vote for Congress. In 2018, the final Post-ABC poll found Democrats holding a seven-point advantage among independents. Democrats’ competitiveness with independents is perhaps notable, given that independent voters disapprove of Biden by 60 percent to 31 percent. More than 9 in 10 self-identified Democrats and Republicans support their party’s candidate for Congress.

Read full Post-ABC poll results

Among voters who disapprove of Biden, 79 percent support Republicans for Congress but 13 percent support Democrats. The smaller number of voters who approve of Biden are more united behind Democrats, favoring them 91 percent to 7 percent over Republicans. In some past years, there has been more uniformity in voting intentions among those approving and disapproving of a president’s performance.

On a related question, 49 percent of registered voters say they prefer that the next Congress be controlled by Republicans to act as a check on Biden while 45 percent say they favor Democratic control to support the president’s agenda. By 51 percent to 40 percent, independent voters say they prefer Republicans be in charge.

The latest poll finds a significant gender gap, continuing a trend from previous cycles: Democrats’ support margin for Congress is 18 points better among women than men, similar to 2018 when Democrats fared 15 points better among women than men in a final Post-ABC national poll. Democrats hold a 10-point advantage among women under age 50, down from a 32-point lead ahead of the 2018 election.

On the other hand, Democrats’ support among non-White registered voters appears weaker than before the 2018 election, with 58 percent favoring Democrats, down from 69 percent in the final Post-ABC poll. Meanwhile, 54 percent of White voters favor Republicans, similar to 52 percent in 2018. Black, Asian American and Hispanic voters are a critical voting bloc that typically votes Democratic in large numbers.

These findings shed light in particular on the battle for control of the House. In past years, Republicans have been able to score gains in House races even when narrowly trailing on the question of people’s voting preference. This year Republicans need only modest gains to win the majority in the House, and most forecasts continue to show them on a course to do that.

The battle for control of the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 with Vice President Harris able to cast tiebreaking votes, will turn on both the overall political climate and on the quality of the candidates. Many of the key races remain close, according to public polls.

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The state of the economy looms as a major issue over the election. About 3 in 4 Americans say the economy is either “not so good” or “poor” while about 1 in 4 say it is “good” or “excellent.” In the spring of 2021, 42 percent rated the economy positively, but for the past year, perceptions have soured significantly amid rising prices and stock market declines.

Voters say inflation and the economy are two of the most important issues in their decision, along with abortion and education. Republicans hold a 17-point advantage among registered voters on trust to handle the economy and an 18-point advantage on trust to handle inflation. But Democrats answer with a 17-point advantage on trust to handle abortion.

On other issues, Republicans hold a 22-point advantage on handling crime while Democrats hold a 21-point advantage on climate change. Democrats and Republicans are about even on handling education and schools.

Among those who say the economy is the single most important issue in their vote, 64 percent say they would vote for the Republican in their congressional district, while 58 percent of those who cite inflation as their top issue say they would vote Republican. Among those who cite abortion as the single most important issue, 66 percent say they would vote for the Democrat in their district.

Americans have different reactions to the costs of food, gasoline and other products and services. Not quite half (48 percent) say they are concerned but not upset about the rate of inflation, while 45 percent say they are upset. But there is a clear partisan division on those perceptions, with more than 6 in 10 Republicans calling themselves upset and nearly 7 in 10 Democrats saying they are concerned but not upset.

Neither party holds an advantage on the issue of immigration, though Republicans have sought to make it a central issue in their messaging. Republican governors in Florida and Texas have elevated the issue by sending immigrants to blue states and cities, which has inflamed the debate in recent days.

Overall, when voters are asked which party they trust to handle the main problems facing the country over the next few years, they are split down the middle, with 42 percent citing Democrats and 43 percent citing Republicans. There is a predictable partisan split on this, with about 9 in 10 Republicans and Democrats favoring their party, while independents are roughly split.

The two parties are running almost parallel campaigns, with Republicans focused on inflation, crime and immigration and Democrats targeting abortion and Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party.

The impact of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision continues to affect many campaigns. The Post-ABC poll finds that 64 percent of Americans oppose the ruling, including 53 percent who say they are strongly opposed. More than 8 in 10 Democrats oppose the decision while 56 percent of Republicans support it. Almost 7 in 10 independents are opposed.

Majorities of women and men oppose the court’s ruling, but more women (69 percent) disapprove than men (58 percent). Younger Americans are significantly more likely to say they are opposed than those age 50 and older.

Republicans have pushed for more restrictive laws in states where they control the legislatures, and some Republicans have called for Congress to enact a national ban on abortion. Meanwhile, some Republican candidates have tried to temper their language on the issue in the face of the opposition to the court decisions.

When the positions of the two parties are weighed on the issue, 50 percent of Americans say Republicans favor too many restrictions, while 29 percent say the GOP’s posture is about right and 10 percent say Republicans favor too much access to abortion. About 3 in 10 say Democrats favor too much access while 45 percent say Democrats’ positions are about right and 13 percent say Democrats favor too many restrictions.

The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has motivated younger women. The poll finds that women under age 40 are now just as likely to say they are certain to vote as men under 40, with about half of each saying the same. In July, shortly after the decision, men under 40 were far more likely than women under 40 to say they were certain to vote (45 percent to 32 percent). Both, however, are still less certain of voting than older Americans.

The investigations of Trump, both by the Justice Department and the House select committee looking into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, have inserted the former president into the campaign discussion, to the chagrin of Republican elected officials who prefer that Trump not be at issue in November.

Both men and women lean toward saying Trump should be charged in connection with the investigations, but there is a decided difference between them, with 48 percent of men saying yes, compared with 43 percent saying no, while 56 percent of women say he should be charged compared with 34 percent who oppose.

The November election will determine the direction of Biden’s next two years in office and will serve as a prelude to the 2024 election, when voters could see a rerun of the 2020 election between Biden and Trump. Both have signaled a desire to seek their party’s nomination.

At this point, a 56 percent majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they would prefer to nominate someone other than Biden, who would be 82 years old at the beginning of a second term. Younger Democrats overwhelmingly (75 percent) want someone else.

Republicans are split almost evenly on the desirability of Trump as their nominee, with 47 percent saying they prefer him as their standard-bearer compared with 46 percent who prefer someone else as the nominee. The clearest division within the GOP on this question is based on education, with 56 percent of Republicans without college degrees favoring Trump as the nominee and 64 percent of those with college degrees saying they prefer someone else.

And if the 2024 race is again between Biden and Trump, 48 percent of registered voters say they would support Trump while 46 percent would support Biden, a difference within the poll’s margin of error.

Read Post-ABC poll crosstabs by group

This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted Sept. 18-21, 2022, among a random national sample of 1,006 U.S. adults, with 75 percent reached on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is four points among the sample of 908 registered voters.