Washington (CNN) - A new national poll suggests the Democrats have improved their position in this year's battle for Congress, but they still have quite a way to go before their majority status in the House of Representatives could be considered safe at the ballot box.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday indicates that if elections for Congress were held today, 50 percent of the public would back the Democratic candidate in their congressional district, with 46 percent supporting the Republican candidate. That's a switch from CNN's last poll, conducted in late March, when the GOP had a 4-point advantage. The margins are within the poll's sampling error.
The generic ballot question asks respondents if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district, without naming any specific candidates. The Democrats currently hold a 253-177 advantage in the House, with four seats that the Democrats once held vacant and one seat that the GOP held vacant. Republicans need to win 40 seats to take back control of the chamber.
The poll indicates the Democrats received a bump among women and people earning less than $50,000 a year.
"Some core Democratic groups - chiefly women and lower-income Americans - may be coming back, and since those groups are the ones most affected by health care, it's possible that is a delayed reaction to new law," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But that seems to have helped them only in safe Democratic districts. Most of the Democrats' gains since March have come in districts which a Democrat won with at least 55 percent of the vote in 2008. They still face a double-digit disadvantage in swing districts - another indication that gains in the generic ballot today may not result in more seats won in November."
Historically, an advantage in the generic ballot does not automatically indicate who will win control of the House: "In 1994, the Democrats had a three-point edge in the November generic ballot, but that translated into a 52-seat loss," Holland notes.
According to the survey, 43 percent of independents say they'll support the GOP candidate, with 38 percent backing the Democrats, with a high number saying they're undecided or will vote for a candidate other than the Democrat or Republican in their district.
Forty-nine percent of people questioned say they have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, with 46 percent saying they hold an unfavorable view. The public's divided on the GOP, with 47 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party and an equal amount saying they hold an unfavorable view.
It appears Americans are also divided on the Tea Party, with 38 percent saying they have a favorable view of the limited-government movement and 36 percent holding an unfavorable view. One in four say they are undecided. The survey's release comes two days before Tea Party activists hold rallies in the nation's capitol and across the country on April 15, tax day.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll was conducted April 9-11, with 1,008 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.