The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Battleground House districts remain close in new poll

With Democrats eyeing the 2018 elections as a chance for a blue wave, here's how they're fighting to win the 24 seats they need to take control of the House. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

The contest for control of the House remains close and hard fought, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll of the most-contested districts in the country, with Democrats holding a statistically insignificant lead over Republicans.

The latest survey shows only a marginal change in the race during October, with 50 percent currently supporting the Democratic candidate in their district and 47 percent backing the Republican. Candidates from the two parties collectively are running almost even in 48 contested congressional districts won by President Trump in 2016, while Democrats hold the advantage in 21 competitive districts won by Hillary Clinton. The Democrats’ lead in those Clinton districts has narrowed a bit since the beginning of the month.

The overwhelming majority of the districts surveyed — 63 of the 69 — are currently represented by a Republican in the House. Collectively these battleground districts voted strongly for Republicans in the 2016 election. The fact that the margins today are where they are illustrates the degree to which the GOP majority is at risk but also the fact that many individual races are likely to be close. Democrats need to gain a net of 23 seats to take control of the chamber.

[Read the full poll results ]

Overall, likely voters in these districts give the two major parties mixed-to-negative marks. Democrats are rated favorably by 48 percent and unfavorably by 52 percent. For Republicans, it’s 47 percent positive and 53 percent negative.

Most voters have a favorable view of one party and a negative view of the other party, but 10 percent say they dislike both parties. Voters in that group say they prefer the Democratic candidates in their districts by 15 points. Four years ago, when the GOP made gains in the midterms, voters who rated both parties negatively at this point in the election said they preferred Republican candidates for the House by 17 points.

The battle over the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has energized voters on both sides, according to the poll. About 6 in 10 likely voters in each party say they are more motivated to vote on Nov. 6 as a result of the clash, which included allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh that drove fierce denials from him and other Republicans. Among independents with no partisan leanings, about half say it has motivated them to vote.

[How the poll was conducted ]

The Kavanaugh hearings split the country, with many Americans saying they believed Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school in the Washington suburbs, and many others saying they believed Kavanaugh’s denials that he was innocent of the charge.

The new survey finds that a majority of battleground district voters (57 percent) say they are concerned that men they are close to might be unfairly accused of sexual assault. But a far larger majority (78 percent) say they are concerned that women in this country are not believed when they report that they were sexually assaulted. Overall, by 59 percent to 41 percent, Americans say the bigger problem is that women who report that they were sexually assaulted are not believed.

On a related question, a 54 percent majority of likely voters say that men who commit sexual assault face serious consequences less than half the time. More women than men hold those perceptions, 60 percent to 49 percent. Eight in 10 Democrats and just over 3 in 10 Republicans say men who commit such acts don’t face serious consequences most of the time.

The Kavanaugh confirmation turned into a supercharged partisan fight, and the findings in the new Post-Schar School survey bear that out in responses to the questions about men and women. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say they are concerned that men can be accused unfairly of sexual assault, 76 percent vs. 34 percent. That argument was put forth by Trump and other Republicans as Kavanaugh fought to save his nomination.

Conversely, Democrats are much more likely to say they worry that women who report sexual assaults are not believed, with 98 percent of Democrats saying they are concerned about this compared with 63 percent of Republicans. Democratic leaders had made that argument in defense of Ford, who they said should be believed although she only began to share news of her alleged assault decades after it happened.

Among political independents, 59 percent say they are concerned that men close to them might be unfairly accused of sexual assault, while 74 percent are concerned about women not being believed when they report assault. On both questions, independents are somewhat closer to Republicans than Democrats.

On the question of which of the two is the bigger problem, 92 percent of Democrats say it is that women are not believed, while 69 percent of Republicans say their concern is unfair accusations against men. Among independents, 55 percent say the bigger problem is women not being believed.

The survey by The Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government was conducted in 69 congressional districts rated as competitive in late August by the team at the Cook Political Report and Post political staff. Surveys identified the major-party candidates by name in each district. This survey was a follow-up with voters who were initially interviewed in late September and early October. The survey, which was in the field Oct. 15-21, did not attempt to measure the state of races for the Senate. Results among the sample of 1,269 likely voters have an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.

Overall, there was little movement between the two polls, with 93 percent of those surveyed supporting the same candidate as in the first round. Of those who changed, 2 percent switched from Democrat to Republican and 2 percent switched from Republican to Democrat. The remainder switched from having no opinion to one of the parties.

If anything, partisan attitudes hardened during the month. Today, 95 percent of Democrats say they support the Democratic candidate in their district, and 90 percent of Republicans support the GOP contender. In the first survey, 93 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of Republicans supported their party’s candidate.

To the degree that Democrats have any edge in these districts, it is because of support from women, as was the case in the previous poll. Among likely voters, men favor Republican candidates by 51 to 46 percent, while women back Democrats by 55 to 42 percent.

Nonwhite voters back Democrats 2 to 1, while white voters back Republicans by a statistically insignificant three points, 50 to 47 percent. Among white voters, small majorities of men with college degrees and without degrees and women without college degrees say they support Republican candidates. But white women with college degrees support Democratic candidates by a 23-point margin.

Nearly twice as many likely voters who support Republican candidates say their vote is more in favor of the GOP candidate than against the Democrat, 51 percent to 27 percent. Voters who support Democrats also tend to say they are motivated more by support for the party’s candidate than opposition to the Republican, albeit by a smaller 45 percent to 29 percent margin.

Interest in the election remains high, with a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month finding 77 percent of registered voters saying they are certain to vote or have voted early, up from 65 percent in October 2014. Some people who say they will definitely vote end up not doing so, but in states that allow early voting, there has been an early surge of interest that could signal higher-than-normal turnout for midterm elections.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.